The Atlantic forest in South America is home to a wealth of wildlife, including 104 species found nowhere else on earth. Although often overshadowed by its more famous neighbour, the Amazon rainforest, the Atlantic forest is actually in far greater danger and is considered one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world.
Extending along the eastern coast of Brazil into Paraguay and northeast Argentina, the Atlantic forest has suffered a huge amount of deforestation, with as much as 92 percent of the original forest having already been lost. Once thought to have covered an area of over a million square kilometres, the Atlantic forest has now been reduced to a total area of just under 100,000 square kilometres. Worryingly, what remains is severely fragmented, with many areas of forest too small and isolated to support species in the long term.
Fortunately, there are a number of conservation organisations working to protect and restore the forest here, using a variety of methods including the creation and expansion of protected areas, environmental education programmes to raise awareness, and reforestation. Reforestation is particularly helpful in terms of creating wildlife ‘corridors’, areas which can be protected and replanted to help connect isolated fragments of forest.
Organisations such as REGUA plant seedlings grown in their own nursery from the seeds of around 50 native tree species, such as the guapuruvu tree, that are collected in the local area by staff and volunteers. By the end of the 2011/12 planting season REGUA had planted over 110,000 trees. To ensure a high survival rate, the seedlings are watered in times of drought and monitored to ensure they are not damaged by leaf-cutter ants or overcome by weeds before they become established. This careful monitoring has led to a seedling survival rate of around 95 percent.