The vanishing Brazilian Atlantic forest

The vanishing Brazilian Atlantic forest

Biological Conservation 34 (1985) 17 -34 The Vanishing Brazilian Atlantic Forest Gustavo A. B. da F o n s e c a Florida State Museum, University of ...

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Biological Conservation 34 (1985) 17 -34

The Vanishing Brazilian Atlantic Forest

Gustavo A. B. da F o n s e c a Florida State Museum, University of Florida, Museum Road, Gainesvil[e, FL 32611, USA

ABSTRACT The Brazilian AtlanticJorest constitutes a unique biome characterised by a high species diversity and a high level ofendemism. A long history ~?/ land elearingjor crops, pastures, timber and firewood has resulted in over two centuries of widespread destruction. Today, less than 6.8'~, of the total area of the Atlantic lorest o1 Minas Gerais has any jorm o[jorest cover andjorests in primaeval state are not/ctrj?om becoming extinct. The remaining Jorest patches are small, isolated and unprotected, hz order to preserve some of the original diversity of the Atlantic,/~,'est, urgent e[]orts must be channelled toward protecting the remainingfi)rest J?agments.

INTRODUCTION Broadly defined, the region known as the Brazilian Atlantic forest extended originally from the northeast, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte to the southernmost border of Brazil, along its coastline (Eiten, 1974). This region has historically harboured the largest share of Brazil's human population and has experienced large-scale developments, especially during the last 100 years (Pimenta, 1974). As a result, very little remains of the original forest formations of this region, and the Atlantic 17

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Gustavo A. B. da Fonseca

forest is probably one of the most endangered sets of ecosystems in South America (Mittermeier et al., 1982; Hatton et al., 1984). The Atlantic forest is not a mere extension of the Amazonian forest, but is a distinct formation with a high diversity of plant and animal species. It is physiognomically very different from the lowland forest of the Amazon basin (Myers, 1980). The level of endemism is generally high (MelloLeitao, 1946), for reptiles (Muller, 1973; Jackson, 1978), birds (Haffer, 1974) and especially primates (Mittermeier et al., 1982). Vanzolini (1978) has pointed out the lack of close relationship between the primate faunas of the Amazon and the Atlantic forest region. In this second region, there are 10 marmoset species (Mittermeier & Coimbra-Filho, 1981) of the genus Callithrix, all of which are endemic. The genus Leontopithecus is endemic to the Atlantic forest, and is represented by three species (Coimbra-Filho & Mittermeier, 1973). Callicebus personatus is represented by three endemic subspecies. The muriqui or woolly spider monkey Brachyteles arachnoides, the largest New World primate, is also confined to the Atlantic forest of Brazil (Aguirre, 1969). The region harbours at least 130 m a m m a l species, of which 51 (39 ~) are endemic (Fonseca, in prep.). In order to preserve this highly endemic fauna, it is vital to acquire knowledge on how much suitable habitat is left and the current pressures upon it. The census data on production of native forests (IBGE, 1980b) show that timber and firewood are still being taken out of the Atlantic forest, despite indications that perhaps only 1~o of original native vegetation cover remains (Mittermeier et al., 1982). With the exception of the study by Victor (1975, in Almeida & Rocha, 1977) in the state of Sao Paulo, there have been no detailed regional works evaluating how much land is still forested and the extent of the threat to the native habitats of the Atlantic forest. This study examines the rates and extent of the deforestation process in the Mata and Rio Doce regions (Zona da Mata) of the Atlantic forest, in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. This area was one of the last to be colonised within the Atlantic forest ecosystem (Pimenta, 1974), and is very representative of the fate of the forests of the region as a whole. This study concentrates on the Mata and Rio Doce regions, an area of 68 000km 2, or approximately 11 ~,,, of the original distribution of the Atlantic forest in its primaeval state. This area has been cleared for crops, pastures and to supply wood as fuel for the 56 steel companies established in the region.

Brazil&n Atlantic Jorest


METHODS The Zona da Mata region was visited during a study that lasted from May to August 1983. Three data sets were used to estimate rates of deforestation and the proportion of Atlantic forest that still remains in the state of Minas Gerais. The first set of data concerning land was collected from the files of the town of Caratinga's office of RURALMINAS. This is the state equivalent of INCRA, the National Institute for Agrarian Reform. R U R A L M I N A S processes applications of squatters asking for possession of state lands where they have been living and/or working. The general procedure includes sending a state assessor to estimate the value of the land, and he usually includes a general description of the area, and the amount of forest cover on the property. I sampled 235 applications spanning a period from 1884 to1983 and calculated, for each five years, the average proportion of the average property under forest cover. The second set of data was collected from the files of IEF, the forest service of Minas Gerais. l surveyed all of the existing files (336) at the Caratinga's office of I EF, that were issued between 1980 and 1983. Before 1980 no records were kept. This office is responsible for issuing permits for deforestation on private properties in eight counties (Municipios). These permits include the size of the property and the proportion of it that the owner intends to deforest. The third set of data was also concerned with patterns of land use, and made available by the Brazilian Census Agency, IBGE (lnstituto Brasileiro de Geografia a Estatistica). This included (1) the Anuario Estatistico do Brasil for 1975 and1980, (2) the Extractive Production Census for 1980 and (3) the Agriculture and Cattle Raising census for the state of Minas Gerais for 1975 and 1980. I determined the total area being used for permanent and temporary crops, as well as the number of cattle in the region known as 'Mata and Rio Doce' (Zona da Mata). This area does not constitute any administrative unit within the state of Minas Gerais, but is a census unit that encompasses the majority of the counties of the Atlantic forest of that state. I also included in this census unit 10 other counties not included in the 'Mata and Rio Doce' census unit, but where Atlantic forest was also present. These were: Alvinopolis, Antonio Dias, Coronel Fabriciano, Dionisio, Ipatinga, Jaguaracu, Marlieria, Rio Piracicaba and Timoteo. In addition, I used IBGE maps (scale 1:250 000) developed from aerial photographs taken in 1975.


Gustavo A+ B. da Fonseca

THE BRAZILIAN ATLANTIC FOREST In Ab'Saber's (1977) classification of morphoclimatic domains, this region is called the Atlantic Tropical Domain, but is also known as 'the sea of forested hills'. This domain can be subdivided into three major vegetation types if one includes the Araucaria angustijblia pine forests of the states of Parana, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, as Eiten (1974) has done. However, for this study, I only consider two vegetation types, both of which are mesophytic broadleaf forests which are included within the tropical region (Fig. 1). The first vegetation type is the Tropical Evergreen Mesophytic Broadleaf Forest (Eiten, 1974), or Coastal Forest (Hueck, 1972; Alonso, 1977). This forest type covers the eastern slopes of the coastal mountains and extends to the coastline. Its distribution is mostly limited by rainfall, for it usually requires around 2000mm annually (Hueck, 1972). It also requires high mean annual temperatures (16-19 °C), which limits this forest type to the low and medium elevations (Hueck, 1972). The Coastal Forest originally occurred as a narrow strip

-0 o


0 o.


16°" []

-32 o



32 o-

54° I

Fig. 1. Original distribution of the Tropical Evergreen and Tropical Semideciduous Broadleaf forests of the Atlantic forest region. The distribution of the Araucaria angusti]blia pine forests of southern Brazil are not represented in this figure (Modified from Hueck, 1972).

Brazilian Atlantic forest


only a few kilometres wide along most of its distribution, which extended uninterrupted along the Brazilian Atlantic coast. The second vegetation type is the Tropical Semideciduous Mesophytic Broadleaf Forest (Eiten, 1974). To the west of the coastal mountains, in areas of lower precipitation, but where rainfall still allows the presence of tall forests, the evergreen coastal formation gives way to this second type of forest, composed of both evergreen and semideciduous species (Hueck, 1972; Eiten, 1974; Alonso, 1977). The annual rainfall in this area is usually between 1000 and 1500 mm, with a marked dry season of 5 to 6 months and a higher proportion of semideciduous species appearing towards the western part of its range. In Minas Gerais, the Atlantic forest extends westwards from the borders of the states of Espirito Santo and Bahia. The Atlantic forest region of Minas Gerais is known as 'Zona da Mata', or forest zone.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND As a result of its geographical location, the coastal region of the Atlantic forest was the first to be explored and exploited when the Portuguese first entered Brazil in the 1500s. Ports and trading posts were established all along the coast, especially in Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, and provided the first routes of penetration inland. The fertile lands of the coastal plains were first used for sugar cane, becoming the major economic activity of the colony in the 16th and 17th centuries, supplying Europe with sugar to meet all its needs (Burns, 1980). With the discovery of gold and diamonds in the late 16th century, a move inland started (Hemming, 1978). The subsequent exhaustion of the gold mines was followed by large-scale settlement and agriculture became the most important economic activity in Brazil (Val, 1972). As early as 1831, the European naturalist Auguste de Saint-Hilaire (1972) expressed his concern for the fate of the impressive forests that were already being rapidly converted to farms. Since the start of this century, crop and pasture lands have steadily expanded. In addition, the area has become, especially in the south and the southcentre, the main industrial pole of Brazil. Today, 43 ~o of the Brazilian population is concentrated in this region, even though it accounts for only 11 ~0 of the nation's territory. The colonisation o f ' Z o n a da Mata" followed the same pattern as that of other parts of the Atlantic forest region. Pimenta (1974) offers a


Gustavo A. B. da Fonseca

succinct review of the human settlement in this region. In 1500 the region drained by the Rivers Doce, Paranaiba, Mucuri and Sao Mateus was completely covered with forests, mostly inhabited by Botucudo Indians. Apart from numerous European expeditions aimed at enslaving Indians and locating gold mines (Hemming, 1978), the human impact on the native forest was negligible until the 1700s. The discovery of gold in the Rio Doce region attracted colonists inland. This economic cycle lasted from 1700 to 1749. By 1720, towns established around gold mines had as many as 250 000 inhabitants. Once the gold mines were exhausted, these towns became the centres for the establishment of farms. The Rio Doce valley was the last to be colonised and by the 1800s the Indians of the region had been exterminated and facilities for the extraction of iron had been established. The war against the Indians also took its toll on the native forests, as military divisions used fire as a means of driving the Indians from their refuges. In 1861, the first railroad was completed in the Zona da Mata, making possible the large-scale establishment of coffee and sugar cane farms. In 1910, the first steel industry was established in Ipatinga, followed by many others in the 1920s. Both of these factors accelerated the disappearance of the native forest of the region. Although the extent of the human impact on the Atlantic forest ecosystem is evident, detailed analyses of the problem are scarce. Victor (1975, in Almeida and Rocha, 1977), in his analysis of deforestation in the state of Sao Paulo, showed that the forested area, which originally covered 82 % of the state, dropped to 8.3 ~o (20 750 km 2) by 1973. It was suggested in 1978 that the state of Espirito Santo had less than 4~o of its original forests remaining (Anon., 1978a). For the forest zone of Minas Gerais, there are no precise estimates of the remaining forest cover. In 1978, it was suggested that no more than 5 ~o of the whole state was under native vegetation (Anon., 1978b), but this figure included other types of TABLE 1 P r o d u c t i o n of T i m b e r a n d Firewood for the State of Minas Gerais between 1975 a n d 1980"

T i m b e r ( t h o u s a n d s m 3) Firewood ( t h o u s a n d s m ~)







1 241

1 047

1 931




23 119

28 444

20 878

21 203

23 470

a Source: I B G E (1975), I B G E (1980a).


Brazilian Atlantic Jbrest


Fig. 2. A recently deforested area in a farm in the vicinity of the town of Caratinga. The wood is being transformed into charcoal for local consumption and to be sold to the steelproducing plants established in the region.

vegetation found in that state. The census data for extractive production of native wood for the state of Minas Gerais (Table 1) shows that firewood production has not dropped significantly between the period 1975 1980, demonstrating that land is still being cleared (Fig. 2). It should be noticed that timber extraction has dropped by one-half between 1975 and 1980, which could indicate the rapid exhaustion of good primary forests in the region. However, the demand for charcoal to feed the 56 steel companies of the so-called "steel valley' of Minas Gerais has not dropped in recent years. As a result, in 1978, IBDF (Instituto Brasileiro de Desenvolvimento Florestal) estimated that all native forests of the state of Minas Gerais would be exhausted by 1982 (Anon., 1978b).

T H E R E M A I N I N G FORESTS OF Z O N A DA MATA The results of the first data set, the R U R A L M I N A S ' files, provide a historical picture of the deforestation in the region. It also provides a measure of when the forest of the region became subdivided and when its fauna became divided into isolated populations. The variation in area of individual properties is also important. The extent of forest cover in


Gustavo A. B. da Fonseca

private properties is dependent on area, large properties maintaining proportionally larger areas under forest than small ones. In Fig. 3, it becomes evident that up to the 1930s the state lands being colonised had more than 50 % of their area under forest cover. In addition, before 1920, large lots were provided for colonists. After this period, smaller lots were given, their mean size fluctuating around 100ha. After 1930, however, there was a sharp decline in the forest cover present in these properties, which had dropped to an average of about 3 % of the total area by 1955. 700 <" 90-





/ I / I i t



-300 - - %






of Properties



> o 0


"i //


-,oo -o


U. I




d /






/ /









Fig. 3.

Evolution in the loss of forest cover and variation in the size of properties in the Caratinga region of the Minas Gerais Atlantic forest.

This abrupt decline was probably due to charcoal consumption by the steel industries. These results are in agreement with testimonies from land owners. They stated that, beginning in the early 1950s, the purchase price of land under forest became more expensive than cleared land, but before this period, the prices were the same for either land type. This indicates that timber was, before that period, a relatively abundant commodity with little marketable value. The only use for forests was to enrich soils with


Brazilian Atlantic.forest TABLE 2

Area Deforested in 336 Private Properties under the Jurisdiction of Caratinga's Office of IEF, for the years 1980 1983 Total area of properties (ha)

Total area with forest cover on properties (ha)

Total area deforested (ha)

Area under forest cover deforested (%)

32 103


1 526.2


nutrients in the form of ashes. Local people estimate that close to 90 ~o of all forests in the region were converted to pastures and crop lands by burning. After 1961, with the exception of the period 1966~1970, no measurable forest cover was left on these properties. The increase observed in 1966~1970 probably represents an artefact of the small sample size for this period, in which only two properties were examined. The rate of loss of forest cover in the region could be estimated from the applications for deforestation filed at the. Caratinga's office of IEF. I estimated that 18-4~o of the forested area remaining was felled for firewood, timber extraction and agricultural purposes between 1980 and 1983 (Table 2). F r o m the vegetation maps developed by IBGE, it was determined that 44 000 ha out of 1 099 000 ha (4 ~o) was under forest cover in 1975 (Table 3). Using these estimates, I was able to calculate the TABLE 3

Results of Vegetation Analysis of IBGE Maps drawn from 1975 Aerial Photographs for the Caratinga region (see Methods) and Estimated Area Deforested Between 1976 and 1983, based on Deforestation Rate obtained in Table 2 Total area o f maps analysed (ha)

Total area Jorested in 1975 (ha)

1 099 000

44 000

?o remaining of forest cover

Estimate o f Estimate of Estimate of area deJorested area deforested area deJorested between between between 1976 1978 1979 1981 1982-1983

8 096

6 606









3 546 1986 (Projected)



Gustat, o A. B. da Fonseca

remaining area under forest cover in 1983. Assuming a constant rate of 18"4 ~ every three years, it was estimated that in 1983, only 2.34 ~ of land area in counties under the jurisdiction of Caratinga's IEF office was forested. This assumption seems realistic, as the extraction of native wood does not appear to be levelling off in recent years (Table 1). At this rate, only 1.9 ~o will remain in 1986. I also used the data collected at IEF to approach this problem from a different angle. The analysis of 234 applications for deforestation filed at the Caratinga's office of I EF showed that 1 458.2 ha of land yielded a total of 137 639m 3 of wood (timber and firewood), or 94.39m 3 ha-1. If we assume this mean yield for the whole Zona da Mata region, in which 4 636 624 m 3 were extracted during 1980 (IBGE, 1980a), then 49 122 ha were deforested, or 0.7 ~ of the whole region. In the Zona da Mata region these figures represent 18 ~o of the remaining forest being felled each year, or a rate three times greater than the previous one. It is worth noticing, however, that both estimates of deforestation rates are probably conservative, since illegal deforestation also takes place. Finally, the results of the agriculture census for 1975 and 1980 indicate the total area being used for temporary and permanent crops (including recently abandoned fields and the ones in preparation), as well as the total number of cattle present in the region during these years (Tables 4 and 5). Assuming that cattle were being raised in pastures with the upper mean density reported for the region, i.e. 0.8 head h a - 1 (Keller, 1977), the total area under pastures can be calculated. Adding these two figures, we estimate 6.8 ~o as the proportion of area under forest in 1975 and 14.4 ~o in 1980 (Table 6). The increase in 1980 was mainly the result of a reduction in TABLE 4

Area used for Temporary and Permanent Crops in the Zona da Mata (Mata and Rio Doce) Region and Additional Counties (see Methods), in 1975 and 1980 a

Number of farms censused Total area of farms censused ~o of region included in sample of area in region under crops



110 389 6270409 87 ~o 20.20 ~o

118 377 6402831 89 ~o 21.57 ~o

Source: Agricultural census Jbr the state of Minas Gerais, for 1980 (IGBE, 1980b).

Brazilian Atlantic /orest



Number of Cattle in Zona da Mata (Mata and Rio Doce) and Additional Counties, for 1975 and 1980~ (The estimated area occupied by pastures is based on average productivity of cattle per hectare (Keller, 1977) for the region)

Total number of cattle Estimated area under pastures: (in ha), 0.8 head h a - 1



3 669 908

3 220 248

4689690 (73 i)0) 4 119 574 (64 !'~i)

" Source: AgriculturalcensusJor the state of Minas Gerais, in 1975 and 1980 (IBGE, 1980b).

the number of cattle. This reduction could be accounted for by the rural exodus observed between 1975 and 1980 (I BGE, 1982). This movement of workers to urban centres hindered the maintenance of good pastures and lowered their productivity. I observed that well-maintained pastures, free of weeds and second growth, were the exception rather than the rule. Therefore, the figure found for 1980 undoubtedly inflates the amount of forest cover left. Summarising these results, we can estimate that there is between less than 1 ~;~to 6.8 ~o of forest cover remaining in the Zona da Mata region of the state of Minas Gerais, or between 680 to 4 600 km 2. It should be emphasised that the methods used here do not allow differentiation between primary and secondary forests. I visited several TABLE 6

Total Estimated Area used for Crops and Cattle Raising in the Zona da Mata (Mata and Rio Doce) Region and Additional Counties (see Methods), for 1975 and 1980

o/ /o area occupied by crops ~o area occupied by cattle (0-8 i~oheadha 1) Total





73-00 93.20

64.00 85.57


Gustavo A. B. da Fonseca

areas indicated by IEF as being forested, and most of them were highly disturbed secondary forests. Some of them were regenerating for the third time following successive fellings. From field observations, I estimate that over 80~o of existing forests are secondary growth at different regeneration stages. With the exception of some portions of the Rio Doce State Park, in Minas Gerais, I did not see any pristine primary forest in the region. We are dealing not only with the disappearance of the forested area of the Atlantic forest, but with the ecosystem itself. Many of the tree species in the area, especially the most valuable hardwood, like Dalbergia nigra (Veil.) Fr. All., Machaerium spp., Piptanedia spp., Cedrelafissilis Veil., Tecoma spp., among others, are totally extirpated or have become very rare. The dependency of native animal species on these disappearing trees will also lead to a decrease in faunal diversity. Therefore, the results presented here on the amount of animal habitat which survives are greatly inflated. Under current laws, 20 ~, of the private lands in the Atlantic forest region has to remain under forest. The fines for violating these regulations are, however, only a fraction of the income that might be obtained by selling the wood. This makes it profitable to deforest the portion protected by law. For instance, the fines range between 1 and 100 times the minimum monthly reference wage for the region, set by the Federal Government. In 1980, the minimum wage was US$55.00. The profits obtained by selling the wood yielded, on average, US$545.00. These figures indicate that even if the maximum penalty is applied, the owner profits when he deforests more than 11 ha. The data collected at IEF indicated that in the average land holding, 16.4ha were deforested on each occasion, a guaranteed profit for the average owner. Given that the maximum fine is almost never given and only a small proportion of violators ever get fined, a profit is almost guaranteed. From field observations and from data on production of firewood and timber, it becomes clear that deforestation continues. The most recent threat is the 'sugar cane boom'. Sugar cane is being grown mainly to supply alcohol as automobile fuel. A recently completed plant in Caratinga will have the capacity to produce 120 000 litres of alcohol a day. The local cooperative of alcohol producers encourages independent land owners to keep as much of their land under sugar cane as possible. It supplies machinery and fertilizers at lower cost, Several other alcohol plants with similar capacity will be established in the Zona da Mata in the next few years.

Brazilian Atlantic Jorest


F U T U R E TRENDS AND PROSPECTS FOR ACTION Virtually all of eastern Brazil is colonised and in private hands. The colonisation process resulted in the fragmentation of the forests within private lands as agriculture developed. Individual properties are not large enough to justify the acquisition of the lands for public parks. As an example, in the Zona da Mata region, only 0.3 "~, of private properties are between 1000 and 2000 ha (IBGE. 1980b). In addition, given the rates of deforestation calculated in this study, the probability that any one of these properties has a significant amount of forest cover is minimal. The observed pattern of remaining forest patches within private properties is of isolated fragments distant from one another rather than continuous forest along neighbouring farms. This rules out the possibility of acquiring several neighbouring fragments for the creation of large enough parks and reserves. The one exception is the southern region of the state of Bahia, which may still have areas suitable for the establishment of national or state parks (Fonseca, 1983). But there, too, habitat destruction and faunal depauperation are proceeding rapidly and any such conservation measures must be implemented in the next 2 or 3 years. At the moment, there are five national parks, five biological reserves and 17 state parks in the Atlantic forest region of Brazil. With a combined area of 5014km 2, they represent 0-82°JO of the total area of the region However, the official establishment of these areas does not guarantee de [acto protection, since the declaration of an area as a park or reserve does not assure its possession. In the majority of national parks and biological reserves established by IBDF, including some created 20 years ago, funds still have not been provided to purchase the private land holdings existing within park boundaries (Padua c t a l . , 1982). Lack of funds is resulting in the deterioration in the quality of the lands in parks and reserves. Most national parks and biological reserves have incomplete faunal inventories (Comastri ct al., 1981~ Ferreira ~'t a/.. 1981), and virtually all state parks and reserves lack any zoological or botanical survey. This makes it difficult to assess the importance of any particular unit or to develop management programmes. In addition, due to the lack of adequate number of patrolling personnel, poaching and the taking of valuable hardwood is a problem faced by most, if not all~ reserved areas in the Atlantic Forest (Fonseca, 1983 : Anon., 1984). The I I PN B (National Development Plan), which was implemented between 1975 and 1979, established a goal of retaining 5 !~,~of the non-Amazonian lands


Gustavo A. B. da Fonseca

as parks and reserves (Padua & Vasconcelos, 1977). However, IBDF was not able to secure sufficient funds to implement this goal nor to adequately maintain the existing parks. The budget allocated to IBDF in 1983, in which the Parks service is only one of its branches, was a modest 18 million dollars, and as a result of national austerity measures, only half of this amount was made available for 1984 (Anon., 1983). The present study has indicated that suitable land for the establishment of new parks and reserves is lacking. Therefore, as precarious as their situation may be, the existing parks constitute the single most important areas in the Atlantic forest. Although insufficient in number and size, they may be able to protect the last relatively large tracts of good primary forest in the region, together with a large fraction of its fauna. Both the lack of good areas for additional parks and the progressive deterioration in the quality of the existing ones indicate that funds should be allocated preferentially to protection, maintenance, flora and fauna surveys and active management rather than for the acquisition of additional land. The southern part of the state of Bahia is the exception, and there good quality land may still be available for the establishment of new parks (Fonseca, 1983). The remaining forest patches are very small and isolated from one another. The deforestation data have shown that, starting in 1955, the amount of forest has declined sharply. With the exception of the few existing national parks and biological reserves, the likelihood of survival of the fauna populations in the Zona da Mata region of Minas Gerais will depend on the ability of small populations to survive in the forest fragments. Given that not much is known about the ecological requirements of the species, one of the indications of the viability of an isolated population is its genetic size (Robinson & Ramirez, 1982). Fonseca (1983, in press) has shown that the areas inhabited by the last Brachyteles populations are probably not large enough to assure that genetic variability is maintained. This may also be true for other species in the Atlantic forest so that to conserve species diversity in the Atlantic forest management as well as protection is needed (Fonseca, in press). The incorporation of new land into the Atlantic forest park system could be achieved at no cost to the public sector by encouraging the creation of the so-called 'private faunal refuges', defined by law as a private property in which hunting is prohibited by the initiative of the owner, with legal backing at the federal level. Since 1977, when the private refuges for native animals were officially recognised by IBDF, 213 rural land owners

Brazilian A tlantic Jorest


have asked IBDF to classify 251 properties as official private refuges (Fonseca, 1983). Although no logistic or protective measures are to be made available by IBDF to the private refuges, official backing is apparently serving as an effective means of deterring poachers and illegal sports hunters (Fonseca, 1983). The private fauna refuge programme has become one of the most successful implemented by IBDF in recent years and it should be maintained and expanded. It can be argued that since small areas lose species more rapidly than larger ones (Terborgh, 1974: Wilson & Willis, 1975), private reserves alone cannot maintain high levels of diversity. This role must be played by national parks and reserves, and the importance of these areas is overwhelming. However, under special circumstances, a group of adjacent small areas may hold a higher diversity than one large area if enough different habitats are represented (Simberloff, 1982). Nevertheless, single private reserves certainly can be useful in helping conserve a smaller group of species, especially endangered ones. As an example, three private reserves in the Atlantic forest are presently conserving approximately one-third of the extant muriquis Brachyteles arachnoides (Fonseca, in press). In the Atlantic forest of Minas Gerais, in which large tracts of native habitat are no longer in existence, the private reserves are of special importance, and the creation of new ones is urgent. If urgent action is not taken, this decade will witness the disappearance of one of the major biomes of the American continent, and with it one of the most unique sets of animal and plant species in the world. ACKN O W L E D G E M ENTS I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Dr John G. Robinson for support and orientation throughout the planning, analysis and writing of the present study. Dr R. A. Mittermeier supported and encouraged this study and provided the necessary funds through the Primate Action Fund of the World Wildlife Fund .... US. Dr Cello Valle shared with me his extensive experience on the conservation problems of the Atlantic Forest. Drs Kent H. Redford, Charles Woods and Nigel Smith reviewed an earlier draft and offered valuable suggestions. Others helped during several phases of this research: Ana Fonseca, Ilmar Bastos, Carlos Alberto Machado Pinto, Rosa de Sa and Sergio Mendes. The Brazilian Foundation for Conservation of Nature --FBCN, provided logistical facilities in the field.


Gustavo A. B. da Fonseca

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