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Field Chronicles: Abrolhos

VIDEO: The Ocean Connection

With so much ground unexplored, Brazil's incredibly varied landscape is one giant playground for scientists.

South America's biggest nation is one of the most biologically diverse countries on the planet, hosting 2 biodiversity hotspots. It also certainly helps that most of Brazil's northern half is covered by the Amazonia wilderness – the largest tropical forest in the world – which contains a massive amount of unique plants and wildlife. Amazonia shelters as much as a third of Earth's species, including 30,000 plants unique to the region.

Due to its size, only a fraction of the jungle has been explored. Yet scientists managed to discover six new primate species over the past decade.

In protecting its own backyard, the Brazilian government is a proven conservation leader.

The governor of Pará state last winter declared off-limits a section of Amazonia rain forest roughly the size of Illinois. Around the same time, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva signed into law much-needed guidelines to improve the protection and management of the Atlantic Forest, which hugs the coastline and includes the major cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Heavily deforested, less than 8 percent of that once-expansive forest remains today.

LEARN MORE: Read about Brazil's Kayapó, powerful allies in the Amazon

Deforestation, rapid growth, and large-scale agriculture, are causing immeasurable damage to Brazil's environment. With their eye on global markets, companies have ramped up charcoal mining and corn and soybean processing in the Cerrado, an important woodland/savannah ecosystem. More than half of Brazil's soy production comes from this central region. Farmers have also converted significant portions of land to cattle pasture. As a result, the Cerrado's giant armadillo, maned wolves and other large mammals struggle to survive in a fast-changing habitat.

NEWSROOM: Freshwater Biodiversity Crisis in Brazil

Similar problems plague the Pantanal, a diverse wetland ecosystem found along Brazil's borders with Bolivia and Paraguay. Considered the world's largest wetland, this mix of marshes, river channels, and backwaters are sanctuary for populations of howler monkeys, butterflies, and numerous other species. In 2000, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated parts of the Pantanal as a World Heritage Site, but much of it remains formally unprotected today.

IN DEPTH: The Abrolhos region in Bahia, Brazil, is one the richest marine areas in the Atlantic.

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Posted by Bemmy Granados