Animals in Brazilian rainforests are disappearing much faster than previously thought, according to a study released this week.

Along the eastern coast of Brazil, what was once a giant rainforest has been fragmented into smaller pieces after decades of logging to clear space for agriculture. The researchers studied nearly 200 fragments of the Atlantic Forest, which once covered 1.2 million kilometers. Now, almost 93 percent of the rainforest has been converted to farmland.

Even though the researchers focused on the best-preserved remnants of the forest, including areas as big as 12,000 acres, they reported finding “unprecedented rates of local extinctions.” They studied 18 rainforest animals in each forest fragment. On average, only four of those mammals were present, and none of the areas contained all 18. Even some of the largest areas, with full canopies intact, had few of the species remaining.

Some of the mammals already appear to be extinct, or nearly extinct. There was no evidence of white-lipped peccaries, a species similar to pigs, anywhere in the rainforests. Jaguars, giant anteaters, woolly spider monkeys and lowland tapirs were only found in a tiny fraction of the studied forests. Smaller mammals, like marmosets and titi monkeys, were still surviving, though their numbers are also declining.

Hunting, poaching and increased damage from “edge effects” — drying and fire risks as more forest edges are exposed to cleared land — are also harming wildlife. The researchers recommend more protected areas. Unfortunately, the opposite is currently happening: More reserves are being downsized or converted into farmland.

Main photo credit: Paulo B. Chaves/Flickr