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An historic forest © Ralph Clevenger/Getty Images
When explorers from Portugal landed on the shores of what is now Brazil in 1500, the Atlantic Forest, seen here, is what greeted them. Before colonization, the forest the Portuguese called ‘Mata Atlântica’ is estimated to have covered nearly 400,000 square miles, and possibly as many as 600,000. As Brazil celebrates its independence today, the Atlantic Forest is in peril--85 percent of it has been destroyed to make room for agriculture and development.