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Ann Bot. 2002 Oct;90(4):517-24.

Structure, function and floristic relationships of plant communities in stressful habitats marginal to the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest.

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  • 1Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, CCS, IB, Departamento de Ecologia, Caixa postal 68020, cep 21941-970, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil.


The Brazilian Atlantic rainforest consists of a typical tropical rainforest on mountain slopes, and stands out as a biodiversity hotspot for its high species richness and high level of species endemism. This forest is bordered by plant communities with lower species diversity, due mostly to more extreme environmental conditions than those found in the mesic rainforest. Between the mountain slopes and the sea, the coastal plains have swamp forests, dry semi-deciduous forests and open thicket vegetation on marine sand deposits. At the other extreme, on top of the mountains (>2000 m a.s.l.), the rainforest is substituted by high altitude fields and open thicket vegetation on rocky outcrops. Thus, the plant communities that are marginal to the rainforest are subjected either to flooding, drought, oceanicity or cold winter temperatures. It was found that positive interactions among plants play an important role in the structuring and functioning of a swamp forest, a coastal sandy vegetation and a cold, high altitude vegetation in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Moreover, only a few species seem to adopt this positive role and, therefore, the functioning of these entire systems may rely on them. Curiously, these nurse plants are often epiphytes in the rainforest, and at the study sites are typically terrestrial. Many exhibit crassulacean acid metabolism. Conservation initiatives must treat the Atlantic coastal vegetation as a complex rather than a rainforest alone.

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