Cerrado: Tropical Savanna (South America)

Cerrado: Tropical Savanna (South America)

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 16:36
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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 as well as small portions of northeastern Paraguay and eastern Bolivia.

Biologically, it is the richest savanna in the world. Home to 5% of the planet’s animals and plants, it contains an extraordinary amount of biodiversity.

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

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

Map showing the Cerrado biome

Biome map of Brazil

The climate is typical of the wetter savanna regions of the world, with a semi-humid tropical climate. The Cerrado is limited to two dominant seasons throughout the year, wet and dry.

The Cerrado biome is strategic for the water resources of Brazil. The biome contains the headwaters and the largest 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 Cerrado biome is home to a variety of ecosystems, including dry forests, grasslands, wetlands, shrublands, savannas, gallery forests and even wet forests. Within its shifting mosaic of habitats, over 10,400 species of vascular plants can be found.

Amazingly, 4,400 of Cerrado's plant species are found nowhere else in the world. Due to a long dry season, these plants have evolved remarkable resistance both to fire and drought.

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 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.

At least 800 species of trees are found here. Among the most diverse families of trees are the Leguminosae (153), Malpighiaceae (46), Myrtaceae (43), Melastomataceae (32) and Rubiaceae (30).

Much of the Cerrado is dominated by the Vochysiaceae (23 species) 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 composed mainly of the Poaceae, Cyperaceae, Leguminosae, Compositae, Myrtaceae and Rubiaceae.

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

The Cerrado has a high diversity of vertebrates: 150 amphibian species, 120 reptile species, 837 bird species, and 161 mammal species have been recorded.

The region includes megafauna like the 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.

Gallery forests serve as the primary habitat for most of the mammals in the Cerrado because of having more water and being protected from fires that sweep the landscape and having 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 as well as 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 also 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 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 located in the State of Goias. It is home for rhea, jaguar, giant anteater, maned wolf and pumas. The National Park, which is dominated in part by termite mounds, lies in central-western Brazil.