The Cerrado, is a vast tropical savanna ecoregion of Brazil, particularly in the states of Gioas and Minas Gerais. The second largest of Brazil's major habitat types, after The Amazonia, the cerrado accounts for a full 21 percent of the country's land area (extending marginally into Paraguay and Bolivia).

The first detailed account of the Brazilian cerrados was provided by Danish botanist Eugene Warming (1892) in the book Lagoa Santa, in which he describes the main features of the cerrado vegetation in the state of Minas Gerais .

Since then vast amounts of research have proved that the Cerrado is one of the richest of all tropical savanna regions and has high levels of endemism. Characterized by enormous ranges of plant and animal biodiversity, World Wide Fund for Nature named it the biologically richest savanna in the world, with about 10,000 plant species and 10 endemic bird species.. There are nearly 200 species of mammal in the Cerrado, though only 14 are endemic.


The cerrado climate is typical of the rather moister savanna
A savanna, or savannah, is a grassland ecosystem characterized by the trees being sufficiently small or widely spaced so that the canopy does not close. The open canopy allows sufficient light to reach the ground to support an unbroken herbaceous layer consisting primarily of C4 grasses.Some...

 regions of the world, with a semi-humid tropical climate
Tropical climate
A tropical climate is a climate of the tropics. In the Köppen climate classification it is a non-arid climate in which all twelve months have mean temperatures above...

. The cerrado is limited to two dominant seasons throughout the year, wet and dry. Average annual temperatures for the cerradoaverage between 22 and 27°C and average precipitation between 800–2000 mm for over 90% of the area. This ecoregion
An ecoregion , sometimes called a bioregion, is an ecologically and geographically defined area that is smaller than an ecozone and larger than an ecosystem. Ecoregions cover relatively large areas of land or water, and contain characteristic, geographically distinct assemblages of natural...

 has a very strong dry season during the southern winter (approx. April– September).


The cerrado is characterized by unique vegetation types. It is composed of a shifting mosaic of habitat types with the savanna-like cerrado itself on well drained areas between strips of gallery forest (closed canopy tall forest) which occur along streams. Between the cerrado and the gallery forest is an area of vegetation known as the wet campo with distinct up and downslope borders where tree growth is inhibited due to wide seasonal fluctuations in the water table.

The savanna portion of the cerrado is heterogeneous in terms of canopy cover. Goodland (1971) divided the cerrado into 4 somewhat arbitrary categories ranging from least to most canopy cover; campo sujo (herbaceous layer with occasional small trees about 3 m tall), campo cerrado (slightly higher density of trees about 4 m tall on average), cerrado sensu stricto (orchard-like vegetation with trees about 6 m high) and cerradao (canopy cover near 50% with general height 9 m).

Around 800 species of trees are probably found in the cerrado. The most diverse families in the cerrado in terms of tree species include the Leguminosae (153), Malpighiaceae
Malpighiaceae is a family of flowering plants in the order Malpighiales. It comprises approximately 75 genera and 1300 species, all of which are native to the tropics and subtropics...

 (46), Myrtaceae
The Myrtaceae or Myrtle family are a family of dicotyledon plants, placed within the order Myrtales. Myrtle, clove, guava, feijoa, allspice, and eucalyptus belong here. All species are woody, with essential oils, and flower parts in multiples of four or five...

 (43), Melastomataceae
right|thumb|200px|Characteristic venation of many melastomesThe family Melastomataceae is a taxon of dicotyledonous flowering plants found mostly in the tropics comprising some 200 genera and 4500 species...

 (32) and Rubiaceae
The Rubiaceae is a family of flowering plants, variously called the coffee family, madder family, or bedstraw family. The group contains many commonly known plants, including the economically important coffee , quinine , and gambier , and the horticulturally valuable madder , west indian jasmine ,...

 (30). Much of the cerrado is dominated by the Vochysiaceae
Vochysiaceae is a plant family belonging to the order of Myrtales.-Description:Trees or shrubs with opposite leaves; flowers are zygomorph 1--5 merous; ovary inferior or superior; one fertile stamen; fruits samara or capsules-Biogeography:...

 (23 species in the cerrado) due to the abundance of three species in the genus Qualea
Qualea is a flowering plant genus in the family Vochysiaceae. These plants occur in the Neotropics and their wood makes good timber and firewood and is used in construction....

. The herbaceous layer usually reaches about 60 cm in height and is composed mainly of the Poaceae
The Poaceae is a large and nearly ubiquitous family of flowering plants. Members of this family are commonly called grasses, although the term "grass" is also applied to plants that are not in the Poaceae lineage, including the rushes and sedges...

, Cyperaceae
Cyperaceae are a family of monocotyledonous graminoid flowering plants known as sedges, which superficially resemble grasses or rushes. The family is large, with some 5,500 species described in about 109 genera. These species are widely distributed, with the centers of diversity for the group...

, Leguminosae, Compositae, Myrtaceae
The Myrtaceae or Myrtle family are a family of dicotyledon plants, placed within the order Myrtales. Myrtle, clove, guava, feijoa, allspice, and eucalyptus belong here. All species are woody, with essential oils, and flower parts in multiples of four or five...

 and Rubiaceae
The Rubiaceae is a family of flowering plants, variously called the coffee family, madder family, or bedstraw family. The group contains many commonly known plants, including the economically important coffee , quinine , and gambier , and the horticulturally valuable madder , west indian jasmine ,...

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

Soil fertility, fire regime and hydrology are thought to be most influential in determining cerrado vegetation. Cerrado soils are always well drained and most are oxisols with low pH and low calcium and magnesium. The amount of potassium, nitrogen and phosphorous has been found to be positively correlated with tree trunk basal area in cerrado habitats. Fire is an important process in maintaining and shaping the cerrado landscape much like other grasslands and savannas. Many plants in the cerrado are fire adapted exhibiting characters like thick corky bark to withstand the heat.

Cerrado vegetation is believed to be ancient, stretching back perhaps as far in a prototypic form during the Cretaceous
The Cretaceous , derived from the Latin "creta" , usually abbreviated K for its German translation Kreide , is a geologic period and system from circa to million years ago. In the geologic timescale, the Cretaceous follows the Jurassic period and is followed by the Paleogene period of the...

 before Africa and South America separated. A dynamic expansion and contraction between cerrado and Amazonian forest has probably occurred historically, with expansion of the cerrado during glacial periods like the Pleistocene
The Pleistocene is the epoch from 2,588,000 to 11,700 years BP that spans the world's recent period of repeated glaciations. The name pleistocene is derived from the Greek and ....

. These processes and the resulting fragmentation have probably contributed to the high species richness
Species richness
Species richness is the number of different species in a given area. It is represented in equation form as S.Species richness is the fundamental unit in which to assess the homogeneity of an environment. Typically, species richness is used in conservation studies to determine the sensitivity of...

 of the cerrado and Amazonian forest.


The insects of the cerrado are relatively understudied. A yearlong survey of the cerrado at one reserve in Brazil found that the orders Coleoptera, Hymenoptera
Hymenoptera is one of the largest orders of insects, comprising the sawflies, wasps, bees and ants. There are over 130,000 recognized species, with many more remaining to be described. The name refers to the heavy wings of the insects, and is derived from the Ancient Greek ὑμήν : membrane and...

, Diptera
Diptera , or true flies, is the order of insects possessing only a single pair of wings on the mesothorax; the metathorax bears a pair of drumstick like structures called the halteres, the remnants of the hind wings. It is a large order, containing an estimated 240,000 species, although under half...

 and Isoptera accounted for 89.5% of all captures. The cerrado also supports high density and of leaf cutter ant ("saúvas") nests (up to 4000 per hectare) which are also very diverse. Along with termites leaf cutter ants are the primary herbivores of the cerrado and play an important role in consuming and decomposing organic matter, as well as constituting an important food source to many other animal species. The highest diversity of galling insects (insects that build gall
Galls or cecidia are outgrowths on the surface of lifeforms caused by invasion by other lifeforms, such as parasites or bacterial infection. Plant galls are abnormal outgrowths of plant tissues and can be caused by various parasites, from fungi and bacteria, to insects and mites...

s) in the world is also found in the cerrado, with the most species (46) found at the base of the Serro do Cipó in southeast Brazil.

The cerrado has a high diversity of vertebrates; 150 amphibian species, 120 reptile species, 837 bird species, and 161 mammal species have been recorded. Lizard diversity is generally thought to be relatively low in the cerrado compared to other areas like caatinga or lowland rainforest although one recent study found 57 species in one cerrado area with the high diversity driven by the availability of open habitat. Ameiva ameiva is the largest lizard found in the cerrado and is the most important lizard predator where it is found in the cerrado. There is a relatively high diversity of snakes in the cerrado (22-61 species, depending on site) with Colubridae being the richest family. The open nature of the cerrado vegetation most likely contributes to the high diversity of snakes. Information about cerrado amphibians is extremely limited, although the cerrado probably has a unique assemblage of species with some endemic to the region.
Most birds found in the Cerrado breed there although there are some Austral migrants (breed in temperate South America and winter in the Amazon basin) and Nearctic migrants (breed in temperate North America and winter in the Neotropics) that pass through. Most breeding birds in the Cerrado are found in more closed canopy areas like gallery forests although 27% of the birds breed only in open habitats and 21% breed in either open or closed habitats. Many of the birds in the cerrado, especially those found in closed forest, are related to species from the Atlantic rainforest and also the Amazon rainforest. The Crowned Solitary Eagle
Crowned Solitary Eagle
The Crowned Solitary Eagle , typically known simply as the Crowned Eagle is an endangered bird of prey from eastern and central South America...

, Hyacinth Macaw
Hyacinth Macaw
The Hyacinth Macaw , or Hyacinthine Macaw, is a parrot native to central and eastern South America. With a length of about 100 cm it is longer than any other species of parrot...

, Toco Toucan
Toco Toucan
The Toco Toucan is the largest and probably the best known species in the toucan family. It is found in semi-open habitats throughout a large part of central and eastern South America...

, Buff-necked Ibis
Buff-necked Ibis
The Buff-necked Ibis , also known as the White-throated Ibis, is a fairly large ibis found widely in open habitats of eastern and northern South America...

, Dwarf Tinamou
Dwarf Tinamou
The Dwarf Tinamou also known as the Least Tinamou, is a small, partridge-like bird with short tail and wings.- Description :...

, and Brazilian Merganser
Brazilian Merganser
The Brazilian Merganser, Mergus octosetaceus, is a duck in the typical merganser genus.It is one of the six most threatened waterfowl in the world with possibly fewer than 250 birds in the wild and none kept in captivity...

 are examples of birds found in the Cerrado.

Gallery forests serve as primary habitat for most of the mammals in the cerrado, having more water, being protected from fires that sweep the landscape and having a more highly structured habitat. 11 mammals are endemic to the cerrado. Notable species include large herbivores like the Brazilian Tapir
Brazilian Tapir
The South American Tapir , or Brazilian Tapir or Lowland Tapir or Anta, is one of four species in the tapir family, along with the Mountain Tapir, the Malayan Tapir, and Baird's Tapir...

 and Pampas Deer
Pampas Deer
Pampas deer, Ozotoceros bezoarticus, live in the grasslands of South America at low elevations. They are also known as Venado or Gama. Their habitat includes water and hills, often with winter drought, and grass that is high enough to cover a standing deer...

 and large predators like the Maned Wolf
Maned Wolf
The maned wolf is the largest canid of South America, resembling a large fox with reddish fur.This mammal is found in open and semi-open habitats, especially grasslands with scattered bushes and trees, in south, central-west and south-eastern Brazil The maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) is the...

, Cougar, Jaguar
The jaguar is a big cat, a feline in the Panthera genus, and is the only Panthera species found in the Americas. The jaguar is the third-largest feline after the tiger and the lion, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. The jaguar's present range extends from Southern United States and Mexico...

, Giant Otter
Giant Otter
The giant otter is a South American carnivorous mammal. It is the longest member of the Mustelidae, or weasel family, a globally successful group of predators. Unusually for a mustelid, the giant otter is a social species, with family groups typically supporting three to eight members...

, Ocelot
The ocelot , pronounced /ˈɒsəˌlɒt/, also known as the dwarf leopard or McKenney's wildcat is a wild cat distributed over South and Central America and Mexico, but has been reported as far north as Texas and in Trinidad, in the Caribbean...

 and Jaguarundi
The jaguarundi is a small-sized wild cat native to Central and South America. In 2002, the IUCN classified the jaguarundi as Least Concern as it is likely that no conservation units, with the probable exception of the mega-reserves of the Amazon basin could sustain long-term viable populations. It...

. Although the diversity is much lower than in the adjacent Amazon and Atlantic Forest, several species of monkeys are present, including Black-striped Capuchin
Black-striped Capuchin
The black-striped capuchin, Cebus libidinosus, also known as the bearded capuchin, is a capuchin monkey from South America. It was the first non-ape primate where tool usage was documented in the wild, as individuals have been seen cracking nuts by placing them on a stone "anvil" while hitting them...

, Black Howler Monkey and Black-tufted Marmoset
Black-tufted Marmoset
The black-tufted marmoset , also known as Mico-estrela in Portuguese, is a species of New World monkey that lives primarily in the Neo-tropical gallery forests of the Brazilian Central Plateau. It ranges from Bahia to Paraná, and as far inland as Goiás, between 14 and 25 degrees south of the equator...


Human Population

For many years the cerrado was only populated by native Brazilians, only recently has it been connected to the more populated areas of Brazil due to the construction of railways and roads. The native people had only a few cattle-grazing areas, small clearings for raising crops, and hunting and fishing to support their needs. The native vegetation provided them with the raw materials for their housing needs (timber, palm thatches, etc.). They could gather fruits, fibers, and firewood for the rural economy.
During the last 25 years modern agriculture has been developed in the cerrado to produce soya, maize, rice, etc and huge numbers of cattle are raised in planted pastures . Charcoal production for the Brazilian steel industry also causes great destruction of the cerrado. By 1994, an estimated 695,000km2 of cerrado (representing 35% of its area) had been converted to `anthropic landscape'.

Agriculture has grown so much because of various forms of subsidy, including very generous tax incentives and low interest loans, this has caused the an enormous establishment of highly mechanized, capital intensive system of agriculture.

Charcoal Production

The charcoal production for Brazil’s steel industry comes in second to agriculture in the cerrado. They actually are quite intertwined. When land is being cleared to make more land for agriculture, the tree’s trunks and roots are often used in the production of charcoal, helping to make money for the clearing. The Brazilian steel industry has traditionally always used the trunks and roots from the cerrado for charcoal but now that the steel mills in the state of Minas Gerais is the world’s largest, it’s taken a much higher toll on the cerrado . However, recently because of the conservation efforts and the diminishing vegetation in the cerrado, they now are receiving some charcoal from the eucalypt plantations and these efforts are growing .


Taking advantage of the sprouting of the herbaceous stratum that follows a burning in the cerrado, the aboriginal inhabitants of these regions learned to use the fire as a tool, to increase the fodder to offer to their domesticated animals.

Until the mid-1960s, agricultural
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

 activities in the cerrado were very limited, directed mainly at the extensive production of beef cattle
Beef cattle
Beef cattle are cattle raised for meat production . The meat of cattle is known as beef. When raised in a feedlot cattle are known as feeder cattle. Many such feeder cattle are born in cow-calf operations specifically designed to produce beef calves...

 for subsistence or the local market , since cerrado soils are naturally infertile for agricultural production. After this period, however, the urban and industrial development of the Southeast Region has forced agriculture to the Central-West Region. The transfer of the country's capital to Brasilia
Brasília is the capital city of Brazil. The name is commonly spelled Brasilia in English. The city and its District are located in the Central-West region of the country, along a plateau known as Planalto Central. It has a population of about 2,557,000 as of the 2008 IBGE estimate, making it the...

 has been another focus of attraction of population to the central region. From 1975 until the beginning of the 1980s, many governmental programs have been launched with the intent of stimulating the development of the cerrado region, through subsidies for agriculture . As a result, there has been a significant increase in agricultural and cattle production. On the other hand, the urban pressure and the rapid establishment of agricultural activities in the region have been rapidly reducing the biodiversity of the ecosystems.


The cerrado was thought worthless for agriculture until researchers at Brazil’s agricultural and livestock research agency, Embrapa, discovered that it could be made fertile by appropriate additions of phosphorus and lime. Researchers also developed tropical varieties of soybean
The soybean or soya bean is a species of legume native to East Asia, widely grown for its edible bean which has numerous uses...

s, until then a temperate crop.

Today the "cerrado" region contributes more than 70% of the beef cattle production in the country ("Pecuária de Corte no Brasil Central"; Beef Cattle Production in Central Brazil, Corrêa, 1989), and thanks to irrigation
Irrigation may be defined as the science of artificial application of water to the land or soil. It is used to assist in the growing of agricultural crops, maintenance of landscapes, and revegetation of disturbed soils in dry areas and during periods of inadequate rainfall...

 and soil correcting techniques it is also an important production centre of grains, mainly soya, beans, maize and rice. Great extensions of "cerrado" are also utilised in the production of cellulose pulp for the paper industry, with the cultivation of several species of Eucalyptus
Eucalyptus is a diverse genus of flowering trees in the myrtle family, Myrtaceae. Members of the genus dominate the tree flora of Australia...

and Pinus, but still as a secondary activity. Coffee produced in the Cerrado is now an important export.

The region is increasingly threatened by single-crop monoculture
Monoculture is the agricultural practice of producing or growing one single crop over a wide area. It is also known as a way of farming practice of growing large stands of a single species. It is widely used in modern industrial agriculture and its implementation has allowed for large harvests from...

 plantations (particularly soybeans), the expansion of agriculture in general, and the burning of the vegetation for charcoal
Charcoal is the dark grey residue consisting of carbon, and any remaining ash, obtained by removing water and other volatile constituents from animal and vegetation substances. Charcoal is usually produced by slow pyrolysis, the heating of wood or other substances in the absence of oxygen...

. Current knowledge on changes in carbon stocks upon land use conversion in the Brazilian Cerrado have been reviewed by Battle-Bayer et al.

Nobel Peace Prize
Nobel Peace Prize
The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five Nobel Prizes bequeathed by the Swedish industrialist and inventor Alfred Nobel.-Background:According to Nobel's will, the Peace Prize shall be awarded to the person who...

 laureate Norman Borlaug
Norman Borlaug
Norman Ernest Borlaug was an American agronomist, humanitarian, and Nobel laureate who has been called "the father of the Green Revolution". Borlaug was one of only six people to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal...

 described the Cerrado as one of Earth's last remaining arable frontiers for the expansion of agriculture. The 2006 World Food Prize
World Food Prize
The World Food Prize is an international award recognizing the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.-The Prize:...

 was awarded to former Brazilian Minister of Agriculture Alysson Paolinelli
Alysson Paolinelli
Alysson Paolinelli is a Brazilian agronomic engineer and public official who received the 2006 World Food Prize for his role in transforming the Cerrado into productive cropland. Paolinelli was Brazil’s Minister of Agriculture from 1974 to 1979.-References:...

, soil scientist Edson Lobato
Edson Lobato
Edson Lobato is a Brazilian soil fertility scientist who received the 2006 World Food Prize for his role in helping transform the Cerrado into productive cropland. Adding to the contributions of fellow 2006 World Food Prize Laureates, Dr. A...

 (also of Brazil), and American soil scientist A. Colin McClung
A. Colin McClung
Dr. A. Colin McClung is an American scientist who received the 2006 World Food Prize for his role in helping transform the Cerrado – a region of vast, once infertile tropical high plains stretching across Brazil – into highly productive cropland...

for their leadership in soil science and policy implementation that opened the Cerrado to agricultural and food production.

In total, 37.3% of the Cerrado has already been totally converted to human use, while an additional 41.4% is used for pasture and charcoal production. The gallery forests in the region have been among the most heavily affected. It is estimated that about 432,814 km2, or 21.3% of the original vegetation, remains intact today.


The Cerrado is a major habitat that is extremely species rich and for some reason is not recognized by the Brazilian Constitution as a National Heritage. The government has protected 1.5% of the cerrado biome in Federal Reserves . One issue with expanding this reserve is that research needs to be done to choose the location of these reserves because the cerrado is biome is floristically very heterogeneous and constitutes a biological mosaic . Teams from the University of Brasilia, CPAC and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh have been collaborating on this project for a number of years funded by Brazilian, European Community and British funds. The project has recently been expanded into a major Anglo-Brazilian initiative, Conservation and Management of the Biodiversity of the Cerrado Biome, with UK Overseas Development Administration funding1. Its aim is to survey the floristic patterns of cerrado vegetation and to discover representative areas and biodiversity `hot-spots'.

Further readng

External links

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