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Brazilian Beauty: The Threatened Atlantic Forest

Iguaçu Falls

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(Image credit: Tim Hirsch)


This is the part of the Atlantic Forest most foreign tourists get to see one of the wonders of the natural world, Iguaçu Falls on the border between Brazil and Argentina. It was the dramatic location used for the 1986 movie "The Mission," starring Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons, about 17th century Jesuits defending indigenous tribes from the slave traders. More than a million tourists flock here each year, and none will forget the spectacle.

Visitors may be less aware that even this wonderful site, within the largest national park in the Atlantic Forest, is also at risk because of its isolation. Surrounded on all sides by massive monocultures of soy, corn, pasture and pine plantations, there is little opportunity for the wildlife to exchange genes with other parts of the ecosystem. This makes conservation experts worried about the long-term viability of some of the species because of the limited gene pool. That worry is combined with the fact that climate change will likely force some species to shift their range, or try to. Here too, a project is under way to restore a corridor of forest across the bare landscape to link up with other protected areas to the north.

So the might of these falls masks the fragility of what is left of the Atlantic Forest. Finally, the "forgotten forest" of Brazil is being recognized. The question is whether there is still enough time to secure the long-term future of this powerhouse of biodiversity.