An incredible eight percent of the world’s plant species occur in the Atlantic forest (9), with 8,000 out of a total of 20,000 or more plant species found nowhere else (1) (4). In particular, more than half of the Atlantic forest’s trees are endemic (1) (5), including the pau brasil (Caesalpinia echinata) and the Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra) (1), which produces one of the most highly prized timbers in Brazil (11). Tree diversity in the Atlantic forest is one of the highest in the world, and in some parts over 450 different species have been recorded in a single hectare (1) (3) (7) (8). These forests also support a huge variety of other plants, including ferns, mosses, lianas, orchids and bromeliads (9).
In addition to its huge plant diversity, the Atlantic forest is home to an astonishing range of animal life. In total, around 264 mammal species have been recorded there, including endemic species such as the maned three-toed sloth (Bradypus torquatus) and shrewish short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis sorex) (1) (3) (4) (9). Of the region’s 26 primates, perhaps the most famous are the two endemic primate groups, the lion tamarins, including the golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) and black-faced lion tamarin (Leontopithecus caissara), and the muriquis or woolly spider monkeys, comprising the northern muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus) and southern muriqui (Brachyteles arachnoides) (1) (3) (4).
An estimated 936 bird species occur in the Atlantic forest, and many of which are highly threatened, with at least one, the Alagoas curassow (Mitu mitu), classified as Extinct in the Wild (11). Examples of the Atlantic forest’s unique bird life include the red-billed curassow (Crax blumenbachii), Brazilian merganser (Mergus octosetaceus), seven-coloured tanager (Tangara fastuosa), and threatened parrots such as the red-browed Amazon (Amazona rhodocorytha) and blue-chested parakeet (Pyrrhura cruentata) (1) (3) (4).
Reptiles and amphibians
The Atlantic forest is home to around 311 reptile species, including the broad-snouted caiman (Caiman latirostris), Lutz’s tree iguana (Liolaemus lutzae), and turtles such as the Brazilian snake-necked turtle (Hydromedusa maximiliani). Seventeen species of Bothrops snakes are found in the Atlantic forest (1) (4), such as the Critically Endangered golden lancehead (Bothrops insularis), which occurs only on a single, tiny island off the Brazilian coast (11).
Amphibian diversity in the Atlantic forest is high, with 60 percent of the estimated 483 amphibian species found nowhere else. There is also one endemic family, the Brachycephalidae (1) (4), which includes species such as the poorly-known shield toad (Brachycephalus pernix). Some the Atlantic forest’s amphibians, such as the Itatiaia highland frog (Holoaden bradei), are only known from single, tiny areas, and are classified as Critically Endangered (1) (11).
Fish and invertebrates
Over a third of the Atlantic forest’s 350 or more freshwater fish species are endemic to the region (1) (4), and invertebrate diversity is also likely to be high. For example, at least 2,120 butterfly species and 88 tiger beetles have already been recorded from this diverse area (4). Some of the Atlantic forest’s most charismatic invertebrates include the Brazilian salmon pink tarantula (Lasiodora parahybana), the giant metallic ceiba borer (Euchroma gigantea), and the brightly-coloured butterfly Agrias claudina.