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The unknown Cerrado and its colossal biological relevance

Paepalanthus, a species of flora typical of the Cerrado fields. Photo: Aryanne Amaral / IEB Collection


by Michael Becker for publication via Mongabay Brazil


The fires that devastated the Amazon last year they put Brazil in the headlines around the world, and with good reason. The iconic rainforest stores millions of tons of carbon dioxide - burning it means a less stable climate across the Earth. But the fires also devastated, to the same extent, another biome in South America, but news coverage of this catastrophe was sparse.

In the center of Brazil (with small portions in Bolivia and Paraguay) are 200 million hectares of the most biodiverse tropical savanna on the planet, with 5% of the world's species: the Cerrado, a region that, like the Amazon, also holds an amount of carbon fundamental to the climatic balance of the planet.

The lack of knowledge about its importance may be due to what is not visible in its landscape: about 70% of the biomass of the Cerrado it is underground, and that means that the carbon reservoirs that it houses in the soil contribute immensely to determine the concentration of CO² in the atmosphere. As they go through a long dry season each year, the Cerrado trees have adapted, growing downward, instead of upward, in search of water.

Because of this, most Brazilians consider the Cerrado to be an “ugly forest” - the trees in the biome are not tall, as in the imposing Amazon.

Today is the International Biodiversity Day, and it is essential to consider the contribution of this biome: rivers and rains within the Cerrado are connected to almost all of Brazil - bringing water to agriculture, hydroelectric power generation and human consumption.

In addition to the 12,070 species of plants and 1,050 species of vertebrate animals, approximately 46 million people currently live on the natural resources from the region: indigenous peoples, traditional communities, family farmers, urban populations, as well as important sectors, such as agribusiness and mining. The Brazilian Cerrado currently concentrates a large part of the production of agricultural commodities of world importance.

The second largest underground water reservoir in the world - the Guarani Aquifer - as well as the largest flooded plain on the planet - the Pantanal - are made up of the Cerrado springs; and its ecosystem is seriously threatened if we continue with the alarming deforestation promoted by large-scale agriculture, which until today has already eliminated 50% of the biome. That's before the fires that swept across much of the region in 2019.

Research shows that deforestation in the Cerrado is 2.5 times higher than in the Amazon, and even so, it does not generate as much social commotion. In regions like MATOPIBA, an acronym related to the expanding agricultural frontier in the states of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia, the scenario is quite serious - by 2010, 60% of the original cover had been converted into pastures and monocultures, and much of what remains has already suffered some type of anthropic intervention.

The celebration of International Biodiversity Day should remind us that we share our existence with several other beings; as maned wolf, the giant anteater and fruits like the pequi, coquinho-sour and baru, in the case of the Cerrado. One way to interpret biodiversity is to consider that it reflects the interaction of all the elements that make life possible as we know it. So, we need to be responsible for our direct influence on the maintenance of biodiversity, its use and consequences on human, animal and plant life; in any biome or ecosystem.

Covid-19 is the most recent example of human interference in natural processes and their consequences. THE Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) recently released a communication reinforcing the need to reconcile the return to economic activity with the protection of ecosystems and maintenance of biodiversity. If the destruction continues, there will be a significant increase in the likelihood of new pandemics.

There are 1.7 million viruses yet to be identified. Keeping the forests upright prevents us from coming into contact with sources of new diseases. The lesson that the pandemic leaves us is to recognize the vital need to ensure sustainable development in order to maintain our conserved ecosystems if we want to continue to exist. This situation makes us look once again at the unknown Cerrado, which more than ever, if highlighted and protected, will contribute with essential elements, such as water and natural resources, to overcome this and any other future crisis.

At the moment, initiatives such as those being carried out by the Partnership Fund for Critical Ecosystems and at International Institute of Education of Brazil are helping to find the path to this new model towards the sustainable development. The fund has 52 partner institutions, united in the conservation of Cerrado biodiversity and the services it provides to Brazilians. The actions involve 6,335 people and protect 11,533,753 hectares of the biome. In addition to contributing to the processing of 108,125.76 kg of raw material extracted from the Cerrado, which promotes an increase in income for the communities of R$ 119,264.00 in the sale of native seeds and R$ 245,443.78 in Cerrado fruits.

The great results we have achieved so far, certainly bring us a reason for celebration in this International Biodiversity Daybecause it demonstrates that it is possible to reap many fruits of this reconciliation of the use of biodiversity with its protection, which bring direct benefits to the populations that share the Cerrado.

Read the article in full on the Mongabay Brazil!

Find the English version here!


Michael Becker is the leader of the CEPF regional implementation team (Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, or Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund) and has been working since 2000 to ensure civil society's contribution to the conservation of rich and highly threatened ecosystems. In Brazil since 2016, CEPF works with the support of the International Education Institute of Brazil (IEB), a Brazilian third sector institution dedicated to training and qualifying people. This is the list of organizations that are part of the network: http://cepfcerrado.iieb.org.br/lista-projetos/

We thank and congratulate each of our partners for their tireless effort to fight the conservation of the Cerrado and its peoples!

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.



How important is the Cerrado for global biodiversity?

Cerrado It is the largest hotspot in the Western Hemisphere, covering over 2 million km² in Brazil and smaller parts (around 1%) of Bolivia and Paraguay. The Cerrado biome is the second largest biome in South America, covering an area of 2,039,386 km², 24% of Brazil.



Recognized as a hot spot global biodiversity, the Cerrado stands out for its abundance of endemic species, housing approximately 12,070 cataloged native plant species, of which 34,9% (4,208) are endemic¹. The Cerrado contains 13.4% of all plant species in the neotropical region and 1.5% of all plant species in the world. The great diversity of habitats results in remarkable transitions between different vegetation types. A total of 251 species of mammals live in the Cerrado, along with rich avifauna, which comprises 856 species. The diversity of fish (800 species), reptiles (262 species) and amphibians (204 species) is also high. For these reasons, in biological terms, the Cerrado is considered one of the richest tropical savanna regions in the world².

Mauritia flexuosa, buriti / © Bento Viana. ISPN Collection

In addition to its environmental specificities, the Cerrado It also has great social importance. Many people depend on the natural resources that the biome offers to survive with quality of life, including indigenous groups, quilombolas, generators, riverine and babaçu coconut breakers, which are part of Brazil's historical and cultural heritage and share traditional knowledge of biodiversity. More than 220 species are known for medicinal use and many native fruits are regularly consumed by locals and sold in urban centers such as pequi (Caryocar brasiliense Cambess.), Buriti (Mauritania flexuosa Lf), mangaba (Hancornia speciosa Gomes), Cagaita (Eugenia dysenterica (Mart.) DC.), Bacupari (Salacia crassifolia (Mart. Ex Schult.) G.Don), araticum (Annona crassiflora Mart.) And baru (Dipteryx alata Vogel).

However, numerous species of plants and animals are threatened or at risk of extinction. It is estimated that 20% of native and endemic species are not protected by any of the legal protected areas and at least 339 species of animals that occur in the Cerrado are threatened with extinction, according to official lists. After the Atlantic Forest, the Cerrado is the Brazilian biome that suffered the most from human occupation. It is this combination of conditions, high biodiversity and high degree of threat from habitat loss that has made these two biomes a priority for investment in biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services.

Despite the threats, knowledge about the biodiversity Cerrado has evolved significantly in the last decade. However, many gaps that still exist suggest the need for greater investments in inventories and studies for different biological groups³. Research shows that between 1998 and 2008, 1,300 new vertebrate species were described by scientists in Brazil4. Of these, 347 vertebrate species were found in Cerrado sites, 222 new fish species, 40 amphibians, 57 reptiles and 27 mammals. These revealing numbers reinforce the colossal biological relevance of the Cerrado.

Merganser / © Marcelo Ismar Santana. Amada Terra Institute Collection

With these data we have no doubt about the biological importance from the Cerrado. The size of this hotspot, the complexity of its environmental heterogeneity, the high levels of species endemism and the imminent threats pose a major challenge regarding the conservation of its biodiversity and ecosystem services, as well as the promotion of more sustainable development in the region. , including inhabitants living in close contact with nature.

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF, in English for Critical Ecosystem Partnership FundIt has been working since 2000 to ensure the participation and contribution of civil society in the conservation of some of the world's biologically rich but currently threatened ecosystems. The goal is to promote conservation in high priority biological areas and on a landscape scale. In 2013, the the CEPF Donor Council selected the Cerrado as one of the priority hotspots Priorities for conservation promotion investments between 2016 and 2021. To ensure that the CEPF strategy has a significant impact on biodiversity conservation in the hotspot, some investments focus on certain priority species and regions. In this sense, CEPF Cerrado works with a specific support line for the protection of threatened species in the hotspot, where six priority species among the 1,593 considered vulnerable or irreplaceable species were selected for investments. Learn about the species and projects that work to support their protection and conservation in the Cerrado:

Class Family Species Project
Magnoliopside Cactaceae Uebelmannia buiningii Ecology and recovery of Uebelmannia buiningiiJurumi Institute
Magnoliopside Fabaceae Dimorphandra wilsonii (wilson's faveiro) Handling and protection of wilson's faveiro – Society of Friends of the Belo Horizonte Zoo-Botanic Foundation
Birds Columbidae Columbina cyanopis (Plateau Roller) Saving the plateau roller and its unique habitat in the CerradoSAVE Brasil
Birds Thraupidae Sporophila maximiliani (pointed) Reintroduction of bicudo in key areas for the conservation of the CerradoAriramba Institute
Birds Anatidae Mergus octosetaceus (Merganser) Avoiding the Merganser Extinction Amada Terra Institute
Amphibia Hylidae Phyllomedusa / Pithecopus ayeaye Conservation of Pithecopus ayeaye, related species and their ecosystemsAraguaia Institute


Columbina cyanopis, Plateau Roller / © Ciro Albano. SAVE Brazil Collection

For the Cerrado, these six species which are highly threatened globally and have a National Action Plan (PAN), or are part of a regional, have been prioritized for CEPF investments. Through coordination with the National Action Plan Support Groups (GAPANs), priority actions established in the NAPs related to these priority species were identified. CEPF funding has also sought to support the implementation of these actions, especially those related to habitat management and protection. CEPF Cerrado's main objective is to improve the conservation status of these species.

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund CEPF Cerrado it's the International Institute of Education of Brazil (IEB) work to contribute to the protection of these species and the conservation of the Cerrado by supporting projects in different regions of the biome. This support provides incentives for expansion and creation of protected areas, protection of endangered species, support for restoration and environmental monitoring, among others. The goal is to promote conservation in high priority biological areas and on a landscape scale. From this perspective, CEPF identifies and supports a regional approach, involving a wide range of public and private institutions to address conservation needs through coordinated efforts. CEPF is a joint program of the French Agency for Development, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Fund (GEF), the Government of Japan and the World Bank to provide funding for the protection of unique and endangered ecosystems - known. also as priority hotspots of biodiversity.

Learn more about our actions in the Cerrado in http://cepfcerrado.iieb.org.br/lista-projetos/!

Text taken from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund. 2017. Ecosystem profile: Cerrado biodiversity hotspot. Org. Sawyer, D. et al., Brasilia, DF: Supernova.


ORFORZZA, RC et al. New Brazilian floristic list highlights conservation challenges. Bioscience, Oxford, v. 62, p. 39-45, 2012.

²MITTERMEIER, RA et al. Hotspots revisited: Earth's biologically richest and most endangered terrestrial ecoregions. Washington, DC: Cemex, 2004.

³ SON-SON, J. et al. Evolution of knowledge and conservation of the Brazilian Cerrado. In: DINIZ, IR et al. (Org.). Cerrado: quantitative scientific knowledge as a subsidy for conservation actions. Brasilia: Thesaurus, 2010. p. 13-31.

4CAVALCANTI, RB et al. Thick. In: SCARANO, FR et al. (Org.). Brazilian biomes: portraits of a plural country. Rio de Janeiro: House of the Word; CI, 2012. p. 56-91.