The Cerrado savanna, which lies mostly in Brazil, has never received the same attention as its more glamorous neighbor, the Amazon. Yet it is the world’s most biodiverse savanna, home to 5% of the planet’s animals and plants.
Since the 1950s, however, agriculture—most recently, the rapid expansion of soy and beef production—has driven the loss of about half of its native vegetation. By 2030, the Cerrado is projected to lose tens of millions of additional acres of native vegetation.
The Cerrado’s wildlife and rural communities stand to suffer the most. This savanna contains about 200 species of mammal, 860 species of birds, 180 species of reptiles, 150 species of amphibians, 1,200 species of fish, and 90 million species of insect. Giant anteaters and armadillos are among its 60 vulnerable animal species, 12 of which are critically endangered. Of its more than 11,000 plant species, nearly half are found nowhere else on Earth, and local communities rely on many of them for food, medicine, and handicrafts.
The Cerrado is also extremely important as a source of water. Of 12 major hydrological regions in Brazil, six begin in the Cerrado, including the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland. Nine out of 10 Brazilians use electricity generated by water originating in the Cerrado savanna.
The region also locks up a deceptively large amount of carbon, as its small trees have deep root systems. About 70% of the biomass of this “upside-down forest” is underground, and recent studies suggest it may hold about 118 tons of carbon per acre.