Today, on the National Day of the Cerrado (9/11), we will meet a rare natural plant from the Jequitinhonha Valley region, Minas Gerais, which is critically endangered due to the destruction of its habitat by mining and by illegal and predatory collection for trade in collectors. It belongs to the botanical family Cactaceae, the cactus with the scientific name of Uebelmannia buiningii, Ita crown, is found in an area of about 18.81 hectares located in the municipality of Itamarandiba. This area is in transition between the biomes of Atlantic Forest and the Cerrado and where is onethat of the few conservation units in the region, the Serra Negra State Park - PESN. The site is considered a key area for biodiversity or Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), full of endemic species. KBAs are places that “contribute significantly to the worldwide persistence of biodiversity”, for example, by supporting the conservation of threatened species and species that have severely restricted global distributions.
The plant has been studied since 2012 by researchers from the Cerrado Biodiversity Assessment and Research and Conservation Center & #8211; CBC, from the Chico Mendes Institute for Conservation and Biodiversity (ICMBio), which go to the field in search of knowledge about their populations, a more detailed understanding of the characteristics of their habitats and factors that threaten their survival, which are disclosed in scientific works and help to guide the paths to be followed for the management of their populations in nature.
The project & #8220; Ecology & Recovery U. buiningii & #8221; since 2019 with financial support from International Education Institute of Brazil, through the Partnership Fund for Critical Ecosystems (CEPF Cerrado) and with the management of Jurumi Institute for Nature Conservation in partnership with Embrapa-Cenargen and Serra Negra State Park. The biologist and coordinator of the Project, Suelma Ribeiro explains that: “the main focus, without a doubt, is to guarantee the maintenance of the cactus in nature in the long term”.
The plant is critically endangered, according to the national and international list of species of flora threatened with extinction, due to the destruction of their habitat and illegal removal of their individuals. However, other threats were identified with the studies carried out in 2019. According to biologist Washington Oliveira, a member of the team: “the research carried out last year indicated that the invasive exotic plant known as fat grass (Melinis minutiflora) was found in all areas where the cactus occurs and negatively affects its abundance ”.
The cactus that lives exclusively in a range between 900 and 1350 m in altitude, is pollinated by bees, measures about 6 cm in height and lives in association with other shrubs and rocks, especially under others endemic species bromeliads and velózias, also known as canela-de-ema. This association favors a greater abundance of the cactus, attenuating the excessive solar radiation through shading, which leaves the environment more humid, reducing the negative effects of the high temperature of the place, making these appropriate places for seed germination. According to Suelma Ribeiro, “these environments function as a micro ecosystem that must be protected to guarantee the maintenance of individuals of Uebelmannia buiningii.
However, most cactus populations live outside the PESN, with four small populations located on private properties, which requires urgent protection and awareness-raising actions. In this sense, the project also works with environmental education initiatives already developed by the Park's team, stimulating actions that sensitize children and young people from local communities. PESN manager Wanderlei Pimenta comments that: “the redefinition of the Park's limits, the creation of private reserves of natural heritage & #8211; RPPN and the intensification of environmental education actions in the region are fundamental for the protection of the plant and the unit's ecosystems ”.
The management of cactus populations in the rocky fields of Serra Negra requires the adoption of adptive management strategies that favor the reduction of impacts on the few individuals left in nature. Thus, it is essential to ensure the maintenance of ecological interactions and the protection of their habitats. According to Suelma Ribeiro, this approach will also serve to benefit other endangered species that occur in the territory and explains: “the implementation of these management strategies will be the next step to be taken by the project, but which will require the strengthening of current partnerships as well as its expansion to save this cactus from extinction together ”.
More information can be accessed at the following websites:
Jurumi Institute: https://bio.institutojurumi.org.br/atividades/projeto/cacto
Serra Negra State Park: https://www.facebook.com/parqueserranegra/
The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of the French Development Agency, Conservation International, the European Union, Global Environmental Management, the Government of Japan and the World Bank. A key goal is to ensure that civil society is involved in biodiversity conservation.