Central South America: Central Brazil, into Bolivia and Paraguay

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The largest savanna region in South America, this ecoregion also contains an amazing about of biodiversity. Located throughout Brazil Paraguay and Bolivia, over 10,400 species of vascular plants are found, fifty of which are endemic. Fauna diversity is very high also with 180 species of reptiles, 113 of amphibians, 837 of birds and 195 of mammals. Major efforts are needed to preserve what is one of the biologically richest savanna in the world, since only one percent of this ecoregion is protected and agriculture development continues to destroy habitat.

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    740,100 square miles
  • Status
  • Habitats

Location and General Description
Cerrado is the largest savanna region in South America and biologically the richest savanna in all the world. It encompasses Central Brazil (most of Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, and Tocantins; western Minas Gerais and Bahia; southern Maranhão and Piauí; all Goiás and Distrito Federal; and small portions of São Paulo and Paraná), northeastern Paraguay and eastern Bolivia (Ab'Saber 1983). Because of its central position in South America, Cerrado has borders with the largest South American biomes: the Amazon basin (on north), Chaco and Pantanal (on west), Caatinga (on northeast), and Atlantic forest (on east and south). Several of the major South American rivers (e.g., São Francisco, Tocantins, Araguaia, Xingu, Paraguay) have their headwaters in Cerrado (Ab'Saber 1983). Most of the Cerrado is located on large blocks of crystalline or sedimentary plateaus, whose continuity is broken by an extensive network of peripheral depressions (Brasil & Alvarenga 1989). On plateaus ranging in elevation from 500 to 1,700 m, the landscape is dominated by cerrado vegetation, with narrow fringes of gallery forests along the rivers and streams (Eiten, 1990). On the depressions ranging in elevation from 100 to 500 m, different types of vegetation (broad gallery forest, tropical dry forests, all types of cerrado, and marshlands) are distributed in a mosaic fashion (Silva 1995). The cerrado vegetation covers around 95 percent of the ecoregion (Eiten 1990). It is a savanna-like vegetation that grows on nutrient-poor, often deep and well-drained soils (Furley & Ratter 1988). Throughout its range, cerrado vegetation varies much in physiognomy and composition, from an open field ("campo limpo") to a tall closed forest ("cerradão") (Ribeiro et al. 1983). The climate is tropical seasonal. The dry period, from May through September or October, coincides with the coldest months of the year (Nimer 1979). The average annual rainfall varies between 1,250 and 2,000 mm, and the average annual temperature ranges between 20° and 26° C (Nimer 1979). Cerrado harbors a very distinctive biota, with thousands of endemic species. Every single biogeography analysis in South America has pointed out cerrado as an important and distinctive area of endemism for different groups of organisms (Silva, 1995).

Biodiversity Features
The biodiversity of cerrado is extraordinary. For instance, for only three orders of insects (Lepidoptera, Hymenoptera, and Isoptera) scientists have recorded 14,425 species, representing at least 47 percent of the species of those orders in Brazil (Cavalcanti 1999). Biodiversity of cerrado is comprised by at least 10,400 species of vascular plants, 780 of fishes, 180 of reptiles, 113 of amphibians, 837 of birds and 195 of mammals (Cavalcanti 1999). Most of these species are restricted to cerrado. The percentage of endemic species varies among taxonomic groups, from 4 percent in birds to 50 percent in vascular plants. Cerrado is also a unique evolutionary theater where species from the largest South American forests (Amazon and Atlantic Forest) and from the largest South American dry habitats (Chaco and Caatinga) intertwine (Silva 1995).

Distinctive species include the following, plants: Caryocar brasiliense, Qualea grandiflora, Byrsonima coccolobifolia, and Tabebuia ochracea; birds: lesser nothura (Nothura minor), dwarf tinamou (Taoniscus nanus), blue-eyed ground-dove (Columbina cyanopis), white-winged nightjar (Caprimulgus candicans), Brasília tapaculo (Scytalopus novacapitalis), and cinereous warbling-finch (Poospiza cinerea); mammals: the candango mouse (Juscelinomys candango), cerrado mouse (Thalpomys cerradensis), Lindbergh's grass mouse (Akodon lindberghi), pygmy short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis kunsi), giant armadillo (Priodontes naximus), and the maned wolf (Chrysoicyon brachyurus); and lizards: Tropidurus itambere, Tropidurus oreadicus, and Tupinambis duseni.

Current Status
Around 67 percent of the Cerrado ecoregion has been already either completely converted or modified in a major way (Mantovani & Pereira 1998). In contrast, only 1 percent of the total area of the Cerrado Region is protected in parks or reserves. Most of the large-scale human modification in the Cerrado took place in the last 50 years. With a construction of a new capital of Brazil (Brasília), several highways were built, opening the region to a large process of development. During the 1970's and 1980's, several investment programs financed by multilateral funding agencies together with generous government subsides transformed the Cerrado in a new agricultural frontier. Managed pastures and large-scale plantations of soybeans, corn, and irrigated rice were established. As a result, thousands and thousands of square kilometers of cerrado were removed without any studies on environmental impacts.

Types and Severity of Threats
Agribusiness continues to be the major threat to Cerrado biodiversity. It may reach a steady growth in the next couple of years, but agrarian conflicts and new waves of colonization in Piauí, Tocantins and Maranhão states that harbor most of the intact cerrado areas, will certainly increase the pressure on the original vegetation that is left.

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
The cerrado shrublands represent the largest ecoregion in the Americas, and extend across much of eastern Brazil, and into Paraguay and Bolivia. This ecoregion is host to a number of endemic species. For the Brazilian portion, out linework follows INEGI (1993) classifications, from which we lumped the following vegetation types: "open forest cerrado", "dense forest cerrado", "park cerrado", "woody-grass (Gramineae) cerrado", "savanna-seasonal forest transition", and all "secondary vegetation" and "agricultural activities" encompassed by this broader classification. In Bolivia we followed the Ribera et al. (1994) classification of "cerrado savanna" and subsequent linework. In Paraguay we referred to UNESCO (1980), who classify this as "medium-tall grassland with broad-leaved evergreen tree synusia (cerrado)".

Ab'Saber, A.N. 1983 O domínio dos cerrados: Introdução ao conhecimento. Revista do Serviço Publico. 111: 41-55.

Brasil, A.E., and S.M. Alvarenga. 1989 Relevo. Pages 53-72 in A.C. Duarte, editor, Geografia do Brasil- Região Centro-Oeste. Rio de Janeiro: FIGBE-Diretoria de Geociências.

Cavalcanti, R.B. 1999. Ações prioritárias para a conservação da biodiversidade do Cerrado e Pantanal: Sumário Executivo. Belo Horizonte.

Eiten, G. 1990 Vegetação. Pages 9-65 in M.N. Pinto, editor, Cerrado: Caracterização, Ocupação e Perspectivas. Distrito Federal, Brazil: Editora Universidade de Brasília.

Fundação Instituto Brasilero de Geografia Estatástica-IBGE. 1993. Mapa de vegetação do Brasil. Map 1:5,000,000. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Mantovani, J. E., and L. A. Pereira. 1998. Estimativa da integridade da cobertura vegetal do Cerrado/Pantanal através de dados TM/Landsat. Report presented to Workshop "Ações Prioritárias para a Conservação do Cerrado e Pantanal". Http://www.bdt.org.br/workcerrado.

Ribeiro, J. F., Sano, S. M., Macêdo, J., and Silva, J. A. 1983 Os principais tipos fisionômicos da região dos cerrados. Boletim de Pesquisa (EMBRAPA-CPAC) 21: <1-28.

Ribera, M.O., M. Libermann, S. Beck, and M. Moraes. 1994. Mapa de la vegetacion y areas protegidea de Bolivia. 1:1,500,000. Centro de Investigaciones y Manejo de Recursos Naturales (CIMAR) and Universidad Autónoma Gabriel Rene Moreno (UAGRM), La Paz, Bolivia.

Silva, J. M. C. 1995. Birds of the Cerrado Region, South America. Steenstrupia 21:69-92.

UNESCO. 1980. Vegetation map of South America. Map 1:5,000,000. Institut de la Carte Internationale de Tapis Vegetal. Toulouse, France.

Prepared by: Jose Maria C. da Silva
Reviewed by: In process