Cerrado: Tropical Savanna (South America)

Read so far

Cerrado: Tropical Savanna (South America)

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 16:36
Posted in:

The Cerrado is the largest savanna region in South America and the largest ecoregion in the Americas. It encompasses central Brazil as well as small portions of Paraguay and Bolivia. Biologically the richest savanna in the world, it contains extraordinary biodiversity.

Cerrado: Tropical Savanna

The Cerrado is the largest savanna region in South America and the largest ecoregion in the Americas. It encompasses central Brazil and small portions of northeastern Paraguay and eastern Bolivia.

Biologically, it is the richest savanna in the world. It is home to 5% of the planet's animals and plants and contains extraordinary biodiversity.

The Cerrado biome core areas are the plateaus in the center of Brazil. The main habitat types include forest, wooded, park, and gramineous-woody savanna. In addition, Savanna wetlands and gallery forests are also found.

The second largest of Brazil's major habitat types, after the Amazon Rainforest, the Cerrado accounts for 21% of the country's land area.

The Cerrado biome is strategic for the water resources of Brazil. The biome contains the headwaters, the most significant portion of South American watersheds (the Paraná-Paraguay, Araguaia-Tocantins, and São Francisco river basins), and the upper catchments of large Amazon tributaries, such as the Xingu and Tapajós.

The climate is typical of the wetter savanna regions of the world, with a semi-humid tropical climate. Consequently, the Cerrado is limited to two dominant damp and dry seasons. The strong dry season occurs during the southern winter, approximately April through September.

Annual temperatures for the Cerrado average 22 - 27 °C (71 - 80 °F), and average yearly precipitation is 800 - 2,000 mm (30 - 80 in) for over 90% of the area.

Map showing the Cerrado biome

Biome map of Brazil


The Cerrado biome is home to various ecosystems, including dry forests, grasslands, wetlands, shrublands, savannas, gallery forests, and even wet forests. Over 10,400 vascular plants can be found within its shifting mosaic of habitats.

Amazingly, 4,400 of the 11,000 plant species in the Cerrado are found nowhere else. Due to the long dry season, these plants have evolved remarkable resistance to fire and drought, and local communities rely on many for food, medicine, and handicrafts.

At least 800 species of trees are found here. The diverse families of tree species include Leguminosae (153), Malpighiaceae (46), Myrtaceae (43), Melastomataceae (32), and Rubiaceae (30). However, the Vochysiaceae (23 species) dominates much of the Cerrado due to the abundance of three species in the genus Qualea.

The herbaceous layer usually reaches about 60 cm (24 in) in height and is mainly comprised of Poaceae, Cyperaceae, Leguminosae, Compositae, Myrtaceae, and Rubiaceae.

Much of the gallery forests' vegetation is similar to the nearby rainforest; however, some endemic species are found only in the Cerrado gallery forests.

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 insects. Giant anteaters and armadillos are among its 60 vulnerable animal species, 12 critically endangered.

Gallery forests serve as the primary habitat for most of the mammals in the Cerrado. More water protects them from fires that sweep the landscape and have a more highly structured habitat.

Eleven mammal species are endemic to the Cerrado. Notable species include large herbivores like the Brazilian tapir and Pampas deer and large predators like the maned wolf, cougar, jaguar, giant otter, ocelot, and jaguarundi.

Many of the birds in the Cerrado, especially those found in closed forests, are related to species from the Atlantic Forest and the Amazon Rainforest. The crowned solitary eagle, hyacinth macaw, toco toucan, buff-necked ibis, dwarf tinamou, and Brazilian merganser are examples.

Although the diversity is much lower than in the adjacent Amazon and Atlantic Forest, several species of monkeys are present, including the black-striped capuchin, black howler monkey, and black-tufted marmoset.

Protected Areas

Protected areas in the Cerrado include:

  • Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park: Located in the State of Goias, Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park protects a landscape of large canyons, dramatic mountains, and stunning waterfalls. This National Park 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 a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in the State of Goias. It is home to rhea, jaguar, giant anteater, maned wolf, and pumas. The National Park, partly dominated by termite mounds, lies in central-western Brazil.

Map depicting the location of the Cerrado ecoregion (in purple)

Map depicting the location of the Cerrado ecoregion (in purple)