The Cerrado (English: “inaccessible”) is an immense tropical savanna ecoregion located in Brazil. It is distinguished by its wide variety of plant and animal biodiversity. According to the World Wildlife Fund, it is the richest savanna in the world, known for its flora and fauna. The climate of the Cerrado is mostly hot to semi-humid in the summer with a dry winter season which lasts from May to October. The annual precipitation for this region is between 31 – 63 inches. The soils are old, deep, and lacking nutrients.

The landscape of the Cerrado is made up of extensive coarse grasslands crossed with gallery forests and stream valleys. Various types of vegetation are found here. In areas where the water table is close to the surface, fields of buriti palms are found. Alpine pastures occur at higher altitudes and in the soils that are more fertile, grow forests of mesophytes (a plant that grows where soil is usually moist and rich). The Cerrado’s landscape varies greatly between open grassy lands to closed forest-like savanna to even closed canopy forest.

The trees found in the Cerrado have unique twisted trunks covered with thick bark, and leaves that are stiff and wide. The plants’ extensive root systems store water and nutrients. The thick bark and roots of plants have adapted to the fires that commonly sweep the landscape. This adaptation protects the plants from destruction and allows them the chance of sprouting again once fires are gone. It has been estimated that the Cerrado has around 10,000 species of vascular plants.

The Cerrado is home to more than 1600 species of mammals, birds and reptiles; this includes 180 reptile species, 110 amphibians, 835 birds and 195 mammals. Of the numerous invertebrates found here, the most common are the termites and the leaf-cutter ants. These insects are the primary herbivores of this area and play an important role in the natural recycling of organic matter. They are also an important food source for many of the other species that make home here. The main insectivores that are found here are the Giant Armadillo and Giant Anteater. Besides the termites and ants, other herbivores include the Brazilian Tapir and Pampas Deer. The Maned Wolf, Cougar, Jaguar, Giant Otter, Ocelot, and Jaguarundi are all predators of the cerrado. There are also several species of monkeys found here.

Human activities in the Cerrado, mostly agriculture, were limited until the mid 1960s. The main source of agriculture at the time was the production of beef cattle for food and trade. Because of the poor soil quality for agricultural uses, the Cerrado was not well utilized for those purposes. Since 1975, and through the early 80s, the government bodies of Brazil launched many programs aimed at stimulating development in the Cerrado region. Since then, there has been a sizable increase in agricultural and cattle output. These established agricultural programs have also harmed the Cerrado, and is rapidly reducing the biodiversity of the region.

The Cerrado was deemed agriculturally useless until researchers discovered that it could be made fertile with the addition of phosphorous and lime in appropriate quantities. Today the Cerrado region contributes more than 70% of the beef production in the country. Thanks to soil corrective techniques and proper irrigation, soybeans, maize, and rice have also become important productions in this region.

The Cerrado is one of the most threatened ecoregions in Brazil. Less than 3% of the region is protected by law, and with the suffering effects of agriculture, criminal fires, and other human threats, this area will continue to be reduce in size and diversity.

Image Credit: Wikipedia (public domain)


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