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Climate, topography and biodiversity

The Cerrado [1] is the largest tropical savannah region in South America, with over 2 million square kilometers and is mainly located in Brazil, but extending slightly into adjacent parts of Bolivia and Paraguay.

The tropical climate is characterized by a rainy season followed by a dry season with almost no precipitation. The average annual precipitation is between 600 and 2,000 millimeters, while the annual average temperatures range between 22 and 27 Celsius degrees.

Besides the climate, Cerrado biodiversity is influenced by altitude and topography. The central area of the Cerrado consists of vast plateaus of 300 and 1,600 meters in altitude. These structures mainly support savannah formations, separated by a network of low plains. They, in turn, support 15 different types of vegetation, including various types of woods, thickets, and pasture.


The various Cerrado ecosystems are home to a wide variety of species, including endemic species. Although larger studies are needed to catalog the huge variety of species, it is estimated that the Cerrado is home to over 12,000 plant species, wich more than a third could be considered as endemic.

The region has at least 2,373 vertebrate species, about one-fifth of which are endemic. The Cerrado is home to some iconic large mammals, such as the largest canine and feline in South America, the guará wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus), as well as the jaguar (Panthera onca). The Cerrado also houses the giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus), the most impressive member of the Cerrado armadillo fauna.

Recent research has shown that between 1998 and 2008 a total of 1,300 new vertebrate species were identified in Brazil. Among them, 347 vertebrate species were found in the Cerrado, including 222 new fish, 40 amphibians, 57 reptiles, 27 mammals and one bird. These numbers indicate the colossal biological importance of the region.

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CEPF Cerrado 02117

Ecosystem Services

The Cerrado Ecosystem Profile Summary prepared by Conservation International (CI-Brazil) and the Society, Population and Nature Institute (ISPN in Portuguese) for CEPF, showed that the ecosystem services provided by the Cerrado are numerous.

From a hydrological point of view, the ecology of the Pantanal, the world's largest floodplain, depends on the water flowing from the Cerrado and two tributaries of the southern Amazon River are originated in the Cerrado. In addition, for much of southern Brazil, the Cerrado supplies water for consumption and agriculture through runoff, groundwater recharge and atmospheric water vapor flows.

The Cerrado also has a large amount of carbon stored in its vegetation, mainly in the deep tree roots.

Besides its high biodiversity, the Cerrado guarantees the subsistence of human populations inside and outside its borders. Locally, biodiversity resources support the livelihoods of millions of family farmers, traditional communities and indigenous people in the Cerrado, which are about 5 million people.

Loss of Habitats

The main threat to Cerrado biodiversity is deforestation. Most of the remaining original vegetation cover has been subject to various types of interference. For the past five decades, the Cerrado has been the main area of agricultural expansion and consolidation of Brazilian agribusiness, leading to the loss of half of the original vegetation cover of this unique and threatened hotspot.

Deforestation levels in the Cerrado are currently higher than in the Amazon, as are greenhouse gas emissions levels. Although the Cerrado has few dense forests, it is equally or even more important because of its biodiversity and its water and carbon services. Although the Brazilian Forest Code stipulates the designation of Permanent Preservation Areas and Legal Reserves, they will be no more than isolated fragments if deforestation in the Cerrado continues at its current pace.

The Cerrado's economic development model is putting pressure on both local communities and natural ecosystems through continued conversion of land for agricultural and livestock purposes. By 2010, 47% of the Cerrado's land had already been converted to land for human use. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the Cerrado has one of the lowest levels of protection, with only 8% of the territory covered by protected areas.

The extreme biological richness of this hotspot, combined with the alarming rate of land conversion, indicates that urgent measures must be taken to ensure environmental sustainability and human well-being.

[1] Cerrado Ecosystem Profile Summary, prepared by Conservation International (CI-Brazil) and the Society, Population and Nature Institute (ISPN in Portuguese)..