THE FORGOTTEN BIOMES OF BRAZIL

By Oscar Ribeiro of Bromeliário Imperialis

Brazil has many biomes of which the most famous are the Amazon Forest and the Atlantic Rain Forest. Sadly, rapid deforestation is taking care of the former and only 7% is left of the latter! But there´s more, much more to be told when it comes to Brazil´s inexhaustible ability to destroy what it can not create.

This article covers the Cerrado, one of the Brazilian biomes "forgottten" by our legislators back in 1988, when the chapter of natural environment was being discussed for the new constitution to be soon released. The final voting defined the Amazon forest, the Atlantic Rain forest, the Serra do Mar, the Pantanal and the sea coast as national heritage areas. Ironically, the legal guarantee was of little effect, for the rate of destruction has only increased ever since!

But what about the Cerrado and the Caatinga, the two forgotten biomes not covered by the constitution? Well, what can I say? The readers know how politicians costumarily react to pressure from private interests (agribusiness and landowners). This time was not different. These areas were declared open to exploitation and "development", whatever this means. The inescapable consequence couldn´t be different: the rate of deforestation of the Cerrado now reaches a record of 30.000 km2 per year! A Project to amend the constitution by granting the Cerrado and Caatinga the necessary protection given to the other biomes is under discussion since...1995! (PAC 115/95).

To illustrate the catastrophic situation of the Cerrado, we have choosen to comment on the extraordinary Chapada Diamantina National Park (Diamond Highlands)in the state of Bahia, located in the northeast of Brazil, not far from mainland Europe, on the other side of the Atlantic. In Portuguese, the word chapada means a region of steep cliffs and Diamantina refers to the diamonds found there in the mid 1800s when Lençois was an important center of diamond mining.
Chapada Diamantina Chapada Diamantina Chapada Diamantina

"The region is semi-arid, however it has no shortage of water, from the many rivers and streams. The park is typified by hills, mountains, valleys and monoliths, with few plains."¹

The National Park of the Chapada Diamantina was created in 1985 but the federal government has not invested in the necessary infrastructure to guarantee the conservation of the area. In fact, a great portion of the land is privately owned but without personnel, transportation and material support it is impossible to enforce the necessary conservation measures.

Roy Funch The Chapada was the dream come true of an American-Brazilian biologist called Roy Funch. He convinced the Brazilian goverment to buy up large portions of land to ensure its survival and became the first Director of the Chapada Diamantina National Park. Funch has lived in Lençois - since 1978 - where he works as a guide, craftsman, biologist and writer. His books are a reference to the Chapada and we owe him very much for his idealism and realizations.

"In the mountains where the Chapada Diamantina National Park is located, altitudinal variations, topography, soils, strengh and orientation of the sun-light, and the rapidly changing humidity of the soil and the air, create opportunities for a rich and varied vegetation - a complex mosaic of ecosystems , which range from forests and swamps (at 400 meters/1300 feet) to high rock peak (1700 meters/5600 feet), each with their own unique and highly-adapted plant life". ²

The bulk of the vegetation types of the National Park is Cerrado (grassland with shrubs and small trees) or Savanna - a popular definition that the public will recognise and understand - but for the privileged readers of FCBS we prefer using a more precise definition:

-"Campos Rupestres (rocky fields from 700 to 2000 m) basically herbs and shrubs with sparce trees in a thin layer of poor soil (sand, pebbles or gravel). Tough weather. In order to survive under these severe conditions, plants had to adopt different strategies. This explains why they became highly specialized. Bromeliads, for instance, have water tanks to hold the rainwater which are the source of food and shelter for other forms of life. Campos Rupestres are an extraordinary ecosystem with very high endemism and diversity. Fire and drought are their worst enemies;

- Campos Gerais (open fields above 800 m) are "flat open grassland valleys found 800 m (2600 feet) or more above sea level. The soils are very sandy, extremely acidic, and have very low fertility....Even though the nutritive value of this natural pasture is very low, the local ranchers drive their cattle up to these high valleys in the dry season to take advantage of the water always available there. The problem is that they set fire to the whole área to force the grasses to sprout (the mature plants are too tough for the cattle), and the wildfires spread to every corner of the Park.

Together, the Campos Rupestres and Campos Gerais vegetation cover about 90% of the National Park area".²

The Brazilian Cerrado is the richest biodiversified Savanna in the world. It has more than 10,000 species of plants with an incredible 45% of endemism! It extends to almost 2 million square kilometers, approximately three times the size of the state of Texas in the United States.

"The area of Mucuge, in the State of Bahia, surveyed by personnel from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Centro de Pesquisas do Cacau in Itabuna, shows some 670 plant species in about 900 square kilometres. The Serra do Cipo, a small sub-region of the Serra do Espinhaço at much the same latitude as New Caledonia, has been extensively investigated by teams from the University of São Paulo and the São Paulo Institute of Botany. Results to date show an extraordinary 1590 species in an area of only 200 square kilometres. Similar or higher counts, involving different species, are expected from elsewhere in the mountain range. (As a comparison, the whole of the British Isles, with an area of 151 000 square kilometres, has only about 1500 species of plants)". ³

Here is a brief list of the genera of bromeliads found in the Cerrado: Aechmea, Billbergia, Bromelia, Cottendorfia, Cryptanthus, Dyckia, Hohenbergia, Encholirium, Neoglaziovia, Neoregelia, Orthophytum, Tillandsia and Vriesea. All formidable plants, highly specialized and a balm to the eye and the spirit but increasingly consumed by criminal fires. Today, only about 20% of the original Cerrado is left and of that, only about 3% is protected. The disappearance of these sanctuaries is a tragic loss to mankind.

Notes:

¹ Wikipedia

² "A visitor´s guide to the Chapada Diamantina Mountains" by Roy Funch - See also: http://fcd.org.br/

³ "Towards Greater Knowledge of the Brazilian Semi-Arid Biodiversity", by Ana Maria Giulietti, Raymond Mervin Harley, Luciano Paganucci de Queiroz & Alessandro Rapini. http://www.uefs.br/ppbio/cd/english/chapter7.htm

More information:

- Don´t miss! Photos of the Chapada Diamantina: http://www.pbase.com/alexuchoa/chapada_diamantina

- Espinhaço Range Region - http://botany.si.edu/projects/cpd/sa/sa20.htm
- http://www.soscerrado.com/

- Vegetation fires - Fire monitoring: http://sigma.cptec.inpe.br/queimadas/index_in.php

- Photos and movies of vegetation fires: http://pirandira.cptec.inpe.br/queimadas/links_fotos.html#

- http://oradical.uol.com.br/conteudo/leitura.asp?codmat=17471 (in Portuguese)

- http://www.groundreport.com/World/In-Brazil-National-Park-Under-Threat-from-Illegal-

- http://br.truveo.com/Inc%C3%AAndio-na-Chapada-Diamantina/id/2305843013390741595 - Videos

 

Photos by Oscar Ribeiro

Orthophytum albopictum
Fire damaged Orthophytum albopictum
Burnt Hohenbergia
Burnt Hohenbergia
Fire damaged Hohenbergia
Fire damaged Hohenbergia
Hohenbergia pennae
Hohenbergia pennae
Aechmea bromelifolia
Aechmea bromelifolia
Orthophytum amoenum
Orthophytum amoenum
Orthophytum mucugense
Orthophytum mucugense
Orthophytum heleniceae
Orthophytum heleniceae
Cactii
Cactii
Orchidaceae
Orchidaceae

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