Though continental in dimensions, Brazil has some six predominant ecosystems, each with representative flora and fauna. On the coast, from the north of Bahia south to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, it's Mata Atlantica, or Atlantic rainforest, said by scientists to be nearly as rich in biodiversity as the Amazon, but now sadly degraded by the heavy settlement and farming along Brazil's Atlantic coast. Only about 4% of the original Atlantic rainforest cover remains, with large intact stands in the south of Bahia and on islands such as Ilha Grande and Ilha Bela. The golden lion tamarin -- a beautiful squirrel-size primate-is the signature species of Brazil's Atlantic ecosystem, now much endangered. Common tamarins can often be seen in trees and parks in Rio. The coast is also the only place you'll find truly significant mountains.
Inland, Brazil rises to a high plateau of from 1,000m to 1,500m (3,280-4,920 ft.) in altitude that rolls all the way to the western foothills of the Andes. In the southern parts of Brazil (Paraná, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul), this plateau was covered in subtropical rainforest, most of which has long since been converted to cropland.
In the center and center west where things are drier (Goiania, Brasilia, Mato Grosso do Sul, Mato Grosso, Tocantins), you'll find cerrado, dry scrubland forest reminiscent of California chaparral, dotted with beautiful branching Ipe trees-known for bright yellow or purple flowers. Farther west still, on the Paraguay river basin that forms the border with Bolivia, stands the Pantanal. This world's biggest wetland (about the size of Florida) is actually a seasonal flood plain that fills and then slowly drains in response to seasonal rains. It is home to a rich assortment of birdlife-jabiru storks, American woodstorks, red and hyacinth macaws-plus capybara, giant otters, anteaters, and caiman. In the north, the semidesert inland from the coast is known as sertão. This is cowboy country, with cattle, bandits (historically), cactus, and not much else.
In the north, covering about a third of the country (Amazonas, Acre, Mato Grosso, Para, Roraima), stands the Amazon rainforest, the richest assortment of plants and animals on earth. Deforestation rates have been reduced in recent years, though a chunk the size of Connecticut still falls to the chainsaw every year.
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