Prospects for biodiversity conservation in the Atlantic Forest: Lessons from aging human-modified landscapes

Marcelo Tabarelli, Antonio Venceslau Aguiar, Milton Cezar Ribeiro, Jean Paul Metzger, Carlos A. Peres

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346 Citations (Scopus)


Recent global assessments have shown the limited coverage of protected areas across tropical biotas, fuelling a growing interest in the potential conservation services provided by anthropogenic landscapes. Here we examine the geographic distribution of biological diversity in the Atlantic Forest of South America, synthesize the most conspicuous forest biodiversity responses to human disturbances, propose further conservation initiatives for this biota, and offer a range of general insights into the prospects of forest species persistence in human-modified tropical forest landscapes worldwide. At the biome scale, the most extensive pre-Columbian habitats across the Atlantic Forest ranged across elevations below 800. masl, which still concentrate most areas within the major centers of species endemism. Unfortunately, up to 88% of the original forest habitat has been lost, mainly across these low to intermediate elevations, whereas protected areas are clearly skewed towards high elevations above 1200. masl. At the landscape scale, most remaining Atlantic Forest cover is embedded within dynamic agro-mosaics including elements such as small forest fragments, early-to-late secondary forest patches and exotic tree monocultures. In this sort of aging or long-term modified landscapes, habitat fragmentation appears to effectively drive edge-dominated portions of forest fragments towards an early-successional system, greatly limiting the long-term persistence of forest-obligate and forest-dependent species. However, the extent to which forest habitats approach early-successional systems, thereby threatening the bulk of the Atlantic Forest biodiversity, depends on both past and present landscape configuration. Many elements of human-modified landscapes (e.g. patches of early-secondary forests and tree monocultures) may offer excellent conservation opportunities, but they cannot replace the conservation value of protected areas and hitherto unprotected large patches of old-growth forests. Finally, the biodiversity conservation services provided by anthropogenic landscapes across Atlantic Forest and other tropical forest regions can be significantly augmented by coupling biodiversity corridor initiatives with biota-scale attempts to plug existing gaps in the representativeness of protected areas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2328-2340
Number of pages13
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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