The Serra do Espinhaço mountain range represents the largest and most continuous Precambrian orogenic belt in Brazil. The Espinhaço Range Biosphere Reserve includes 16 protected areas: National Parks, State Parks, State Ecological Stations and Municipal Natural Parks.
Serra do Espinhaço
The Serra do Espinhaço is a mountain range in Brazil that runs roughly north and south through the states of Minas Gerais and Bahia, extending for approximately 1,100 km (680 mi). The historic town of Diamantina is located in these mountains.
The Serra do Espinhaço represents the largest and most continuous Precambrian orogenic belt in Brazil's territory, serving as a water divider between the São Francisco River basin and the river basins that drain directly into the Atlantic Ocean; including the Doce, Jequitinhonha and Pardo rivers.
Pico do Sol, the highest peak, rises to 2,072 m (6,798 ft). Along the length of the cordillera, alternating elevations allow for an enormous diversity of climate and rainfall conditions.
Since the early 18th century these mountains have been mined for gold, diamonds and semiprecious stones. They are now economically important chiefly for their vast store of high-grade iron ore and manganese. The mountains are also the world’s chief source of quartz crystals.
Espinhaço Range Biosphere Reserve
The Espinhaço Range Biosphere Reserve includes 16 protected areas (National Parks, State Parks, State Ecological Stations and Municipal Natural Parks) which form the core areas.
The Biosphere Reserve is not a single block and there is a discontinuity in northern Minas Gerais which divides the cordillera into two segments.
In addition to natural values, there are cultural assets such as the colonial towns of Ouro Preto, Congonhas and Diamantina, as well as artistic and religious manifestations that are still kept alive along the entire length of the cordillera.
At elevations over 500 m (1,600 ft) of the Serra do Espinhaço range, a unique phytophysionomy in the world – the "rupestrian fields" – dominate. This type of vegetation is predominantly composed of a more or less continuous herbaceous stratum and small, sclerophyllous evergreen bushes.
Within the Espinhaço Range Biosphere Reserve, only a small number of areas have been intensely inventoried, however it is estimated that there are approximately 3000 plant species. Approximately 30% of the taxa are estimated to be exclusive to the rupestrian fields which would represent approximately 1,000 to 2,000 endemic species.
A high level of endemism is also observed in the fauna: endemic birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fishes have been recorded.
The extent of the Espinhaço Range Biosphere Reserve (over 3 million ha or 7.5 million acres) and its biological, geomorphological and historical importance justify the implementation of measures aimed at the preservation of this mountain complex.
The population of the Biosphere Reserve is approximately 642,000 and includes the indigenous group of Pataxó, several quilombola (runaway slave) communities, religious groups or existentialist sects, as well as the people living in 'gold towns' that were built by bandeiras.
Bandeiras were groups of explorers looking for gold in the 18th century who built mining centers, ranches and register posts which eventually developed into commercial centers and later on into cities and districts.