Cerrado: Brazil's tropical woodland
By Jeremy Hance [Last update July 29, 2020]
Amazon | Mata Atlantica | Geography | Biodiversity | Forests | Deforestation | Threats | Conservation | News
FACTS ON THE CERRADO
Land Areas: From approximately 2,031,990 square kilometers originally to 438,910 square kilometers today.
Countries: Almost entirely in Brazil, though it extends a little into Paraguay and Bolivia.
Biodiversity: 10,400 species of plants, nearly half of which are endemic; 935 species of birds; 780 freshwater fish;113 amphibians; 180 reptiles; and almost 300 mammal species. In three insect orders surveyed: 14,425 species have been catalogued.
Extent of Habitat Cover: Just over 21 percent of the cerrado remains.
Habitat Loss Rate: 21,000 square kilometers of cerrado was destroyed annually between 2002 and 2008, twice the rate of the Amazon rainforest. Between 1984 and 2004, the cerrado ecosystem declined by 1.1 percent every year.
Causes of Habitat Loss: Mechanized soy farms, cattle ranches, and some other crops.
OVERVIEW: THE CERRADO
The cerrado is a vast tropical and subtropical biome covering more than 20 percent of Brazil, it includes a number of ecosystems from tall closed forests to marshlands to open grassland. The largest savannah in South America, the name of the ecosystem, cerrado, translates as 'closed', and the region was long-considered by Brazilians as essentially worthless land. That was until the 1960s when farmers from the US began conditioning the soil with the chemical lime, improving its quality and growing capacity, and thereby transforming the savannah into agricultural fields.
Now the cerrado is one of Brazil's most threatened ecosystems. Half of the ecosystem has been destroyed for mechanized soy farms and cattle ranches. Over the past decade, two million hectares of the cerrado vanished every year to agriculture and pasture. Conservationists predict the possibility of a complete eradication of the ecosystem by 2030.
Long ignored by conservationists and environmentalists the cerrado is home to a shocking number of species, even given comparisons to its biologically-rich neighbors: the Amazon and the nearly-vanished Atlantic Forest. Of the ecosystems' some 10,000 species of plant, nearly half are endemic to the cerrado. Nearly a thousand birds and three-hundred mammals have been recorded in the cerrado as well. For a wooded savannah ecosystem with a long dry season, the cerrado is extremely rich in life.
Researchers have also begun to recognize the cerrado's importance for Brazil's waterways, since the headwaters of many of the nation's rivers begin in this savannah. The ecosystem plays an important role in carbon-cycling. In some years, carbon emissions from the destruction of the cerrado can exceed those from the destruction of the Amazon.
POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY OF THE CERRADO
The cerrado lies almost entirely in Brazil, though a small extent reaches into northeastern Paraguay and eastern Bolivia.
The ecosystem covers a number of central Brazilian states including Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás Distrito Federal, and Tocantins; as well as western Minas Gerais and Bahia; southern Maranhão and Piauí; and small portions of São Paulo and Paraná.
ECOSYSTEMS OF THE CERRADO
The cerrado is tropical savannah characterized by the annual average temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) to nearly 79 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius). The dry colder season extends from May to October. The soil is mostly nutrient poor.
The cerrado biome is home to a variety of ecosystems, including dry forests, grasslands, wetlands, shrublands, savannah, gallery forests, and even wet forests.
Gallery forests are trees and vegetation that line rivers and other waterways in otherwise savannah-type landscapes.
BIODIVERSITY PROFILE OF THE CERRADO
The cerrado is home to a surprising level of biodiversity, in fact some experts have stated that it is the most biologically rich savannah in the world. The region includes megafauna like jaguar, giant anteater, maned wolf, the greater rhea, and the giant armadillo, but the biggest stand-outs are the region's diverse plants and insects.
In total, researchers have found nearly 300 species of mammals, 780 fish, 300 amphibians and reptiles, and 935 species of bird in the cerrado region. In addition, over 14,000 species of insect have been identified from just three insect orders out of 32: Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps, and sawflies), and Isoptera (termites).
But the biggest biological stunner of the cerrado is its plant species: 4,400 of the cerrado's 10,000 species of plants are found no-where else in the world. Due to a long dry season, these plants have evolved remarkable resistance both to fire and drought.
The uniqueness of the cerrado's plant life—and the rampant destruction of the ecosystem—makes these species especially vulnerable to extinction. A recent study estimated that plant species in the cerrado are twice as likely to go extinct than plants in other Brazilian ecosystems, including the Amazon.
New species are still being found in the cerrado: in 2007 two new species of lizard were described by researchers and in 2008 researchers announced the discovery of 14 species new to science: 8 fish, 3 reptiles, a bird, and even a new mammal.
While new species are being discovered, others have gone extinct. The candango mouse (Juscelinomys candango) was first described in 1965, but hasn't been seen since losing all of its habitat to urban development and suburban sprawl in Brasilia.
Some largely endemic species of the cerrado include:
- The dwarf tinamou (Taoniscus nanus) is a small bird endemic to the cerrado. It is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List due to habitat loss.
- The maned wolf's (Chrysocyon brachyurusrange) range is almost entirely found in the cerrado. Reddish in color this canid boasts long-legs likely for stalking and hunting in tall grasses. It is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List also due to habitat loss.
- The cerrado boasts 26 species of the reptiles known as snake-lizards in the genus Amphisbaenidae. Underground dwellers, most Amphisbaenas are without limbs. Six of these snake-lizards are known only in the cerrado.
- The white-winged nightjar (Eleothreptus candicans) is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. As their name implies nightjars are most active after dark or during twilight and early morning.
- Americas' heaviest bird, the greater rhea (Rhea americana) haunts much of the cerrado. Males of this ostrich-like bird are the sole care takers of offspring. Like another megaufauna of the cerrado, the maned wolf, the greater rhea is considered Near Threatened.
The cerrado is disappearing twice as fast as the Amazon rainforest with 21,000 square kilometers (over 2 million hectares) of savannah destroyed annually between 2002 and 2008.
A 2007 Conservation International study found that by 1985, 27 percent of the cerrado was lost. In less than twenty years (2004) the percentage lost rose to 57. During that time the cerrado declined 1.1 percent every year, while the Brazilian Amazon declined by less than 0.5 percent per year over the past decade.
CURRENT THREATS TO THE CERRADO
While there are not numerous threats against the cerrado, the threats that remain are massive in terms of impact and habitat loss. Mechanized soy farming and livestock rearing have caused the loss of half of the cerrado, most of which has occurred in the last 50 years after an agricultural revolution in the 1960s when chemical lime was added to the nutrient-poor soils. Brazil's government pushed such development by constructing a new captial city, Brasilia, in the state of Goias; this included building highways and infrastructure that made shipping agricultural and livestock products easy and cheap. Today only 21 percent of the original cerrado remains.
In addition, the spread of soy and other crops (corn and rice) have indirectly impacted the Amazon rainforest: a boom in agriculture has pushed livestock from the cerrado into the Amazon's edges leading to continuing deforestation of the world's biggest rainforest.
PROTECTED AREAS IN THE CERRADO
To date approximately 7.5 percent of the cerrado is under protection.
Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park: Located in the state of Goias, Brazil, Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park spreads over 655 square kilometers on some of Brazil's highest plateaus. Sporting large canyons, dramatic mountains, and stunning waterfalls, this protected area in the cerrado has been listed as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site.
Emas National Park: Named after the greater rhea, Emas National Park is also a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. Home to rhea, jaguar, giant anteater, maned wolf, and pumas, the park, which is dominated in part by termite mounds, lies in central western Brazil and covers 1,300 square kilometers.
Serra do Tombador Nature Preserve: This is a private reserve created by the Nature Conservancy and the Brazilian organization, O Boticario. Covering 89 square miles kilometers, the reserve is small compared to some of the National Parks but represents a non-government designated protected area. The Nature Conservancy hopes to establish a corridor between the Serra do Tombador Nature Preserve and Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park.
PHOTOS FROM THE CERRADO
Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina
Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina
Pair of Greater Rhea
Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina
Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina
Chapada dos Guimaraes
Jaguar (Panthera onca). Photo by Rhett A. Butler
This species of lizard of the genus Bachia is one of the new species discovered during the expedition. Although there are other species of the genus in the Cerrado (almost all discovered and described only recently), this new species has only been recorded in the Ecological Station. The absence of legs and the sharply pointed snout help in locomotion over the surface layer of sandy soil, predominating in all the Jalapao, formed by the natural erosion of the escarpments of the Serra Geral plateaus. Photos by Miguel Trefaut Rodrigues
Some of the recorded species are relatively rare and little known, like this small fat-tailed mouse opossum of the genus Thylamys, registered for the first time in the Jalapao. Although this species was described from a Cerrado enclave within the Caatinga region, recent surveys have shown that the range of this species is concentrated in the northern portion of the Cerrado savannas. Photo by Agustin Camacho
Other species such as this horned toad believed to be new to science of the genus Proceratophrys occupy very restricted areas. Protected areas like the EESGT are fundamental, because they shelter large populations of the species, reducing the threat of extinction from destruction of the habitats outside the reserves. Photo by Paula Hanna Valdujo.
This species of amphibian (Corythomantis greeningi) occurs mainly in the Caatinga region, with only scant recordings in the Cerrado.The discovery of this species in the EESGT is the first recorded for the Jalapao region. The secretions of its skin can cause irritation to the eyes and nose. Photo by Paula Hanna Valdujo
Top: Stenocercus quinarius lizard in Brazil (photo by Cristiano Nogueira). Bottom: Stenocercus squarrosus lizard in Serra das Confusões National Park, Brazil (photo by Andre Pessoa).
THE LATEST CERRADO NEWS FROM MONGABAY
Soy and cattle team up to drive deforestation in South America: Study
- Between 2000 and 2019, the production of soybean in South America has doubled, covering an area larger than the state of California.
- Soybean farms are typically planted in old cattle pastures, and as soy encroaches, pasture is forced into new frontiers, driving deforestation and fires.
- Although soy was found to be largely an indirect driver of deforestation, policies addressing deforestation have to consider multiple commodities at once, such as the relationship between beef and soy.
- Increased commitments by companies to source from “zero-deforestation” supply chains are a promising strategy, but in order to work, the market needs to be more transparent.
Brazilian Cerrado savanna: Wildcat miners descend on Indigenous reserve
- The Raposa Serra do Sol Indigenous reserve in Brazil’s Roraima state covers 1.75 million hectares (4.32 million acres) along the nation’s border with Venezuela and Guyana. It is home to 26,705 Indigenous people.
- The territory has been under pressure from invaders for decades, even after being demarcated in 2005. But illegal incursions are reaching a new peak now, with an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 gold miners operating in the reserve.
- Incendiary speeches by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro have emboldened the miners, say experts, while attempts to crackdown on wildcat mining in the Yanomami Territory in the Amazon rainforest may have pushed illegal miners operating there into the Cerrado savanna where most of Raposa Serra do Sol is located.
- The illicit miners are causing deforestation and contamination of the Cotinga River and other waterways with sediment and toxic mining waste, including mercury used to process gold. They’re also putting Indigenous people at risk from Covid-19, violence, and social ills including alcohol abuse and prostitution.
Landmark decision: Brazil Supreme Court sides with Indigenous land rights
- Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court (STF) has unanimously accepted an appeal by the Guarani Kaiowá Indigenous people and agreed to review the process around a past case that cancelled the demarcation of their Indigenous territory.
- The Guarani Kaiowá’s decades-long fight for land rights to their ancestral territory, the Guyraroká land in Mato Grosso do Sul state, had been suspended by a 2014 ruling halting the territory’s demarcation process.
- The STF’s decision to review the process in the 2014 case, which hadn’t allowed for Indigenous consultation, is seen by analysts as a victory for Indigenous groups in Brazil, and as a setback for President Jair Bolsonaro who has declared his opposition to any Indigenous demarcation occurring during his administration.
- In a related upcoming case, the STF is expected to rule on the “marco temporal,” which requires that Indigenous people have been living on claimed lands in 1988 in order to establish a legal territory. But litigators have argued that date is unfairly arbitrary, as many Indigenous groups were forced off ancestral lands by then.
Study sounds latest warning of rainforest turning into savanna as climate warms
- A recent study from Brazil shows that heat stress is disrupting a critical component of photosynthesis in tree species found in the Amazon and Cerrado belt.
- Leaves heat up faster than the ambient air, and sufficiently high temperatures can cause irreversible damage to them and endanger the tree.
- The area has become hotter in recent decades and faced increasingly intense heat waves, fueled not just by global warming but also local deforestation.
- Tropical forests could look more and more like deciduous forests or savannas in the future, which are better adapted to deal with higher temperatures, the study found.
Can ‘Slow Food’ save Brazil’s fast-vanishing Cerrado savanna?
- The incredibly biodiverse Cerrado is Brazil’s second-largest biome after the Amazon. However, half of the savanna’s native vegetation has already been lost to industrial agribusiness, which produces beef, soy, cotton, corn, eucalyptus and palm oil for export.
- Those wishing to save the Cerrado today are challenged by the lack of protected lands. One response by traditional communities and conservationists is to help the rest of Brazil and the rest of the planet value the Cerrado’s cornucopia of endemic fruits, nuts and vegetables that thrive across South America’s greatest savanna.
- These include the baru nut, the babassu and macaúba coconut, the sweet gabiroba (looking like a small guava), the cagaita (resembling a shiny green tomato), the large, scaly-looking marolo (with creamy pulp and strong flavor), the berry-shaped mangaba, which means “good fruit for eating,” the egg-shaped, emerald-green pequi, and more.
- Small family farmers, beekeepers, traditional and Indigenous communities, Afro-Brazilian quilombolas (runaway slave descendants), socioenvironmental activists, and celebrity chefs have become allies in a fast-expanding slow food network, declaring: “We want to see the Cerrado on the plate of the Brazilian and the world!”
Guarani Indigenous men brutalized in Brazilian ‘expansion of violence’
- In the 1960s and 70s, the Guarani Kaiowá Indigenous group was expelled from its ancestral lands in Mato Grosso do Sul state by the Brazilian military dictatorship to expand the country’s agricultural frontier. Today, their traditional Indigenous homeland is occupied by large farms, whose owners refuse to return the property.
- A federal Supreme Court decision resulted in an order to allow the return of the Guarani Kaiowá to their former homeland where they now await the official demarcation of their territory to be approved by the federal government — an approval that still hasn’t come after the passage of ten years.
- The land dispute and standoff between the ranchers and the Guarani Kaiowá has repeatedly flared into violence over the years. In 2011, Indigenous leader Nízio Gomes was murdered in the Guaiviry community area by armed thugs.
- Violence flared yet again in Guaiviry last week when three Guarani Kaiowá men were assaulted, they say, by gunmen from the large Querência Farm. The Guarani Kaiowá say that intimidation of their community members has seriously escalated under the Jair Bolsonaro administration, which has shown hostility toward Indigenous rights.
The art of adaption and survival: A story of Brazil’s Kadiwéu people
- The Kadiwéu Indigenous Land is located in western Mato Grosso do Sul state, Brazil, near the Paraguay border. The protected reserve covers 539,000 hectares (1.33 million acres), spanning both the Cerrado (71%) and Pantanal (29%) biomes.
- The 1,500 Kadiwéu living in the reserve today are descended from larger Indigenous groups decimated by Portuguese and Spanish colonizers. The Kadiwéu were donated their territory by Emperor Dom Pedro II for their role in the 1864-70 War of the Triple Alliance; theirs was the first Indigenous reserve ever established in Brazil.
- The remnant Kadiwéu long seemed headed for extinction, but their culture survived and adapted. Their arts, especially pottery and body painting, were studied by international anthropologists, including Claude Lévi-Strauss. Today, the Kadiwéu are incorporating their designs into international high fashion.
- But the Kadiwéu still face challenges. Their reserve continues to be invaded by illegal loggers and land grabbers. In 2019-20, more than 40% of their reserve burned in the Pantanal biome wildfires — brought on by record drought due to climate change and irresponsible land management by ranchers. COVID-19 also looms.
Brazil must do more to protect its people, forests, and the planet (commentary)
- Amid skyrocketing deforestation and destruction of Brazil’s natural environment, the Bolsonaro government is weakening climate commitments and rolling back domestic environmental protections, driving Brazil’s people and the planet ‘off a cliff.’
- This destruction threatens Indigenous communities, wildlife and the global climate, and it is also unpopular in Brazil, as it threatens the country’s economic standing, with reports emerging that rampant deforestation is blocking Brazil’s accession to the OECD.
- Urgent solutions to this existential threat for irreplaceable biomes include stronger climate targets, restoration of effective environmental legislation, and international pressure on the Bolsonaro government.
- This article is a commentary and the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Traditional healers are preserving their knowledge, and with it, the biodiversity of Brazil’s savanna
- The Brazilian savanna contains almost a third of Brazil’s biodiversity but less than 10% is officially protected and its native vegetation is threatened by a rapidly-advancing agricultural frontier.
- Much of the flora and fauna remain unknown to conventional science.
- A network of traditional healers is at the forefront of finding ways to protect, sustainably manage, and document the biodiversity based on their in-depth knowledge of medicinal plants.
- Experts say that finding ways to value the savanna more, such as through recognizing its immense botanical and pharmacological value, could aid in its conservation.
A new app puts invisible communities in Brazil’s Cerrado on the map
- Thousands of Indigenous, quilombola, and traditional communities live in the Cerrado, the world’s most biodiverse tropical savanna. But many lack access to official titles and deeds, and are not registered on official maps.
- As the agricultural frontier pushes into the northern part of the savanna, land-grabbing and violent attacks are increasing. Many of these communities risk losing their land and their resources upon which they depend.
- Now, a new smartphone app developed in collaboration with communities in the northern Cerrado and two Brazilian NGOs allows communities themselves to register their lands on the app, as well as important local sites and conflicts with farmers and land-grabbers.
- The developers of the app aim to halt the rapid and unequal development that threatens the lives and livelihoods of those working to protect the savanna, and ultimately help conserve the last remaining tracts of native Cerrado.
The Possible Meat: A Brazilian farmer shows ranching can regenerate the Cerrado
- Matheus Sborgia, a Brazilian chef, decided to bet on regenerative agriculture after inheriting his grandfather’s cattle ranch in the heart of the Cerrado.
- Sborgia embraced the idea of holistic management and rotational grazing preached by Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean ecologist who became famous for his provocative idea that to save the planet from climate change, instead of reducing livestock farming, we would have to increase it.
- Instead of letting his 200 cows range freely, Sborgia lets them eat everything in a small plot of land before moving them on to another plot; by the time they cycle back the original plot has already regenerated.
- The Brazilian Cerrado is one of the country’s most overgrazed regions. It suffered one of its worst wildfire seasons ever during the past year, and while the ranches around Sborgia’s property were dry, his own land was green and full of life.
The Kalunga digitally map traditional lands to save Cerrado way of life
- The Kalunga represents a grouping of 39 traditional quilombola communities — the descendants of runaway slaves — living on a territory covering 262,000 hectares (647,000 acres) in Goiás state in central Brazil, within the Cerrado savanna biome.
- This territory has been under heavy assault by illegal invaders, including small-scale wildcat gold miners, and large-scale mining operations, as well as land grabbers who have destroyed native vegetation to grow soy and other agribusiness crops.
- To defend their lands, the Kalunga received a grant from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), supported by Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, EU, the Global Environment Facility, Japan and the World Bank. With their funding, the Kalunga georeferenced the territory, pinpointing homes, crops, soils, 879 springs, and vital natural resources.
- In February 2020, the U.N. Environment Programme and World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) recognized the Kalunga Historical and Cultural Heritage Site as the first TICCA (Territories and Areas Conserved by Indigenous and Local Communities) in Brazil, making it what UNEP-WCMC calls a “Territory for Life.”
New platform gathers data on Brazil’s disappearing Cerrado biome
- An online and collaborative tool created by Brazil’s Federal University of Goiás brings together the largest and oldest collection of data available on the Cerrado biome.
- The Cerrado Knowledge Platform will be constantly updated as a national reference on the biome, consolidating information to be used by researchers working for its preservation and management.
- The bilingual platform includes figures on deforestation, land use, biodiversity and socioeconomics; users can also contribute by uploading data, maps and geospatial information.
- Its creators say they hope the website will provide solid knowledge to support researchers in making public policies or designing programs for the conservation of a biome that has already lost more than 50% of its native vegetation.
Big dream: NGO leads in creating 1,615-mile Amazon-Cerrado river greenbelt
- The Black Jaguar Foundation plans to reforest 1 million hectares (2.4 million acres) along Brazil’s Araguaia and Tocantins rivers in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes. The 2,600 kilometer (1,615 mile) long natural corridor will require the planting of around 1.7 billion trees. Tens-of-thousands have already been planted.
- This natural corridor will be established on private lands, and it will have dual ecological and economic goals, resulting in both land conservation and sustainable agroforestry production. It would cross six Brazilian states (Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Tocantins, Pará and Maranhão).
- BJF is well funded and well organized, so the greatest barriers to accomplishing the NGO’s goals are many initially resistant rural property owners who need to be sold on the economic benefits of the green corridor. 24,000 privately owned lots are included in the planned green corridor.
- “Brazil has a huge liability in degraded areas, and the BJF [green corridor] initiative is a huge outdoor laboratory for ecosystem restoration in the center of the country, in the agricultural frontier region,” said one researcher.
‘What’s at stake is the life of every being’: Saving the Brazilian Cerrado
- The Cerrado boasts a third of Brazil’s biodiversity and is the largest savanna in South America with 44% of its 10,000 species of plants endemic. And yet, since the colonial period, this semi-arid region was largely ignored, and has even been portrayed as an “infertile, uninhabited region,” nothing more than “a place between places.”
- That all changed over recent decades with agribusiness declaring the Cerrado to be Brazil’s last great agricultural frontier. Today, half of the vast savanna which covers two million square kilometers (770,000 square miles) has been converted to crops of soy, cotton, corn and eucalyptus, or to pasture covered in massive cattle herds.
- As the savanna has been lost, its communities have simultaneously risen to save what’s left. The National Campaign in Defense of the Cerrado, launched in January 2016, has fought an uphill political battle to preserve the region’s native vegetation and biodiversity. The effort has grown more dogged during the Bolsonaro presidency.
- Working with Indigenous and traditional peoples, the organization is striving to build global awareness of the Cerrado’s natural significance and to get more of the region declared as World Heritage sites. “Defending the Cerrado is defending its people,” declares one activist.
As the Amazon unravels into savanna, its wildlife will also suffer
- The transformation of the Amazon and Atlantic rainforests into savanna-like environments will change the makeup of both the flora and the fauna of these biomes.
- A study by Brazilian researchers evaluated the impacts of climate change and deforestation on more than 300 mammal species under various scenarios of savannization.
- Species like primates, which depend on a dense canopy of trees to survive, could lose up to 50% of their range by the end of the 21st century.
- Meanwhile, species from the Cerrado scrubland, such as the maned wolf and the giant anteater, would be able to move into degraded areas of the Amazon even as their own native range is cleared by human activity.
Brazil flower-gatherers win acclaim: ‘Efficient, long-lasting, resilient’
- For three centuries communities of “flower-gatherers” have lived self-reliantly in the Serra do Espinhaço, a mountain range bordering Brazil’s Cerrado savanna on its east. Many are descended from former slaves, but they’ve mingled with Indigenous and descendants of Portuguese migrants.
- Their several hundred communities have long fostered a cooperative relationship with nature, using fire judiciously and a code of sustainable rules to keep their communal pastures and natural landscapes in balance.
- In 2020, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognized their way of life, designating the flower-gatherers’ traditional farming system as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System. But encroaching mining and agriculture, and a national park all now put this unique culture at risk.
- “The struggle of the flower-gatherers is a profound struggle. It is a struggle for a way of life, a way of thinking the world, of relating with the Serra [mountain range], and constructing a future they want for their children,” says one academic.
Pandemic fails to slow agribusiness’s thirst for Cerrado’s water
- Between April and November last year, the government of the Brazilian state of Bahia authorized agribusinesses to collect nearly 2 billion liters (528 million gallons) of water a day.
- The spread of giant soybean plantations in the state’s west threatens tributaries, floodplains and sources of essential rivers such as the Corrente and the São Francisco.
- The large-scale irrigation poses a major threat to traditional communities, whose own communal farming practices have long protected the Cerrado’s water resources.
- Tensions over water management sparked a popular movement by small farmers in 2017, known as the “Water Uprising” and aimed at protecting the Cerrado’s water resources.
‘Race against time’: Saving the snakes and lizards of Brazil’s Cerrado
- Brazil’s Cerrado is among the world’s most biodiverse savannas, covering two million square kilometers (772,204 square miles), nearly a quarter of the country and half the size of Europe.
- Once thought of as a “wasteland,” scientists have counted 208 snake species, some 80 lizards, 40 worm lizards, seven turtles and four crocodile species — many recently logged in the biome’s grasslands, palm-covered riverscapes, lowland forests and dry plateaus.
- But half of the Cerrado’s natural vegetation has been lost to mechanized agribusiness and ranching, with native plants and wildlife also at risk from climate change, and more frequent and intense fires. Today’s biome is fragmented, with just 3% under strict protection, and another 5% “protected” in farmed, inhabited mixed-use areas
- While researchers agree that there is an urgent need to protect large swathes of remaining savanna, there is also a vital requirement to preserve patches of unique habitat where diverse, niche-specialized reptilians make their homes.
Restaura Cerrado: Saving Brazil’s savanna by reseeding and restoring it
- The Cerrado is Brazil’s second largest biome, and the most biodiverse tropical savanna in the world. It is of vital importance for Brazil’s watersheds, for global biodiversity, and is an important but undervalued carbon stock.
- But in recent decades, half of the Cerrado’s native vegetation has been destroyed to make way for cattle, soy, and other agricultural commodities. In the southern Cerrado, scientists are now shifting their focus to restoring the native vegetation
- However, scientific knowledge on savanna restoration is scarce. So one collaborative network, Restaura Cerrado, is bringing together scientists, seed collectors, and the public to advance practical knowledge about restoration. The group’s goal is to achieve the means for ongoing effective Cerrado restoration.
- Restaura Cerrado is a collaboration between ICMBio, the University of Brasília, the Cerrado Seeds Network, and Embrapa (the Brazilian Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Research Enterprise); together they hope to use restoration to bring sustainable development to the savanna region.