Sugarcane production impacting local climate in Brazil
(05/01/2013) Intensification of Brazil's sugarcane industry in response to rising demand for sugar-based ethanol could have impacts on the regional climate reports a new study by researchers from Arizona State University, Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science. Following the conversion of cerrado grasslands into sugarcane in Brazil, a recent study in Geophysical Research Letters found local cooling that approached 1 degree Celsius during the growing season and maximum local warming near 1 degree Celsius post-harvest.
Burned rainforest vulnerable to grass invasion
(04/24/2013) Rainforests that have been affected by even low-intensity fires are far more vulnerable to invasion by grasses, finds a new study published in special issue of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. The findings are significant because they suggest that burned forests may be more susceptible to subsequent fires which may burn more intensely due to increased fuel loads.
Brazil launches forest trading system
(12/19/2012) Brazil has launched a new platform that enables farmers and ranchers who have cleared forest beyond the legal minimum to come into compliance by purchasing forest 'quotas' from landowners who have more than the mandated level of forest cover, reports the Associated Press. The system could spur increased compliance with the country's Forest Code, according to some experts.
Happy Halloween: nine new species of tree-climbing tarantula discovered
(10/31/2012) If you suffer from acute arachnophobia, this is the perfect Halloween discovery for you: a spider expert has discovered nine new species of arboreal (tree-dwelling) tarantulas in the Brazil. Although tarantula diversity is highest in the Amazon rainforest, the new species are all found in lesser-known Brazilian ecosystems like the Atlantic Forest, of which less than 7 percent remains, and the cerrado, a massive savannah that is being rapidly lost to agriculture and cattle ranching.
After seven year search, scientists film cryptic predator in Minas Gerais
(10/25/2012) South America's rare and little-known bush dog (Speothos venaticus) looks like a miniature dachshund who went bad: leaner, meaner, and not one to cuddle on your lap, the bush dog is found in 11 South American countries, but scientists believe it's rare in all of its habitats, which include the Amazon, the Pantanal wetlands, and the cerrado savannah. Given its scarcity, little is known about its wanderings.
Buffer zones key to survival of maned wolf
(09/17/2012) Known for its abnormally long lanky legs, its reddish-orange coat, and its omnivorous diet, the maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) is one of the more beautiful and bizarre predators of South America. However its stronghold, the Brazilian Cerrado, is vanishing rapidly to industrialized agriculture and urban development. Now, a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science reveals the key role of buffer zones and unprotected areas in keeping the maned wolf from extinction in the Cerrado savannah, where only 2 percent of the ecosystem is under protection.
Chart: Forest loss in Latin America
(08/20/2012) Latin America lost nearly 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles) of forest — an area larger than the state of Oregon — between 2001 and 2010, finds a new study that is the first to assess both net forest loss and regrowth across the Caribbean, Central and South America. The study, published in the journal Biotropica by researchers from the University of Puerto Rico and other institutions, analyzes change in vegetation cover across several biomes, including forests, grasslands, and wetlands. It finds that the bulk of vegetation change occurred in forest areas, mostly tropical rainforests and lesser-known dry forests. The largest gains in biome area occurred in desert vegetation and shrublands.
Brazil’s environmental leadership at risk, warn scientists
(06/26/2012) The Brazilian government is putting its global environmental leadership at risk by ignoring scientific concern on large infrastructure projects and changes in the country's forest laws, warned an association of more than 1,200 tropical scientists gathering last week in Bonito, Brazil on the heels of the disappointing Rio+20 Earth Summit.
Scientists unlock indigenous secret to sustainable agriculture in the Amazon's savannas
(04/11/2012) Indigenous populations in the Amazon successfully farmed without the use of fire before the arrival of Europeans, demonstrating a potentially sustainable approach to land management in a region that is increasingly vulnerable to man-made fires.
Deforestation, climate change threaten the ecological resilience of the Amazon rainforest
(01/19/2012) The combination of deforestation, forest degradation, and the effects of climate change are weakening the resilience of the Amazon rainforest ecosystem, potentially leading to loss of carbon storage and changes in rainfall patterns and river discharge, finds a comprehensive review published in the journal Nature.
Weird carnivorous flower devours worms underground
(01/09/2012) A worm measuring only a millimeter in length scoots its way through relatively massive grains of white sand. The worm, known as a nematode or roundworm, is seeking lunch in the form of bacteria. Suddenly, however, its journey is interrupted: it is caught on a large green surface. Unable to wiggle free the worm is slowly digested, becoming lunch itself for an innocuous purple flower called Philcoxia minensis.
Estimating the rich diversity of galling insects
(12/12/2011) How does one estimate the number of tiny, cryptic "galling" insects without finding and describing every one (a task that could take centuries of taxonomic work)? According to a new paper in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science, you count the plants. Galling insects use plant tissue for development creating a "gall," or abnormal growth on the plant. Such little-known insects include gall wasps, gall midges, aphids, and jumping plant lice. The groups are known to be highly diverse, with over 2,000 species described from the US alone; scientists have previously estimated that there may be as many as 132,000 different species.
Loving the tapir: pioneering conservation for South America's biggest animal
(09/11/2011) Compared to some of South America's megafauna stand-out species—the jaguar, the anaconda, and the harpy eagle come to mind—the tapir doesn't get a lot of love. This is a shame. For one thing, they're the largest terrestrial animal on the South American continent: pound-for-pound they beat both the jaguar and the llama. For another they play a very significant role in their ecosystem: they disperse seeds, modify habitats, and are periodic prey to big predators. For another, modern tapirs are some of the last survivors of a megafauna family that roamed much of the northern hemisphere, including North America, and only declined during the Pleistocene extinction. Finally, for anyone fortunate enough to have witnessed the often-shy tapir in the wild, one knows there is something mystical and ancient about these admittedly strange-looking beasts.
Taking corporate sustainability seriously means changing business culture
(08/11/2011) As more and more people demand companies to become sustainable and environmentally conscious, many corporations are at a loss of how to begin making the changes necessary. If they attempt to make changes—but fall short or focus poorly—they risk their actions being labeled as 'greenwash'. In addition, if they implement smart changes and self-regulations, but their employees don't buy-in to the process, all their investments will be for nothing. This is where Accountability Now, a young, fresh social responsibility agency, comes in. Clare Raybould, director of Accountability Now, believes companies—large and small—have the potential to change the world for the better, but they simply need a guiding hand to change not just the way a company works, but its culture.
Despite moratorium, soy still contributes indirectly to Amazon deforestation
(07/15/2011) Soy expansion in areas neighboring the Amazon rainforest is contributing to loss of rainforest itself, reports a new study published in Environmental Research Letters.
Can Brazil meet deforestation, climate goals and still grow its cattle industry?
(06/09/2011) Despite environmentalists' efforts to combat "rainforest beef" in the 1980s, pasture expansion for cattle is still the primary cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, says a new report produced by Brighter Green. While Brazil's investments in agribusiness have made it an agricultural powerhouse—the country is now the world’s third-largest exporter of farm commodities after the US and the European Union—unfortunately, two of the Brazil’s key products, cattle and soy, are still driving deforestation as well as economic growth. According to Brighter Green’s report, researchers estimate that cattle ranching caused 65-70 percent of land clearing in the Amazon between 2000 and 2005.
Dutch buy first 'responsible' soy sourced from the Amazon
(06/08/2011) The Dutch food and feed industry has bought the first soy produced under the principles of the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS), a body that aims to bring more socially and environmentally sustainable soy to market.
Sugar cane cools climate when it replaces cattle pasture
(04/17/2011) Converting cattle pasture and cropland in Brazil to sugar cane helps cool local climate reports research published in Nature Climate Change.
Conversion of Brazil's cerrado slows
(04/08/2011) Destruction of Brazil's cerrado, a woody savanna that covers 20 percent of the country, slowed during the 2008-2009, reports Brazil's Ministry of Environment.
How to save the Pantanal and increase profits for the cattle industry
(03/28/2011) The Pantanal spanning Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay is the world's largest wetland—the size of Florida—and home to a wide-variety of charismatic species, such as jaguars, capybaras, and giant anteaters. However, the great wetland is threatened by expansion in big agriculture and an increasingly intensive cattle industry. Yet there is hope: a new study by Wildlife Conservation Society of Brazil (WCS-Brazil) researchers has found that cattle and the ecosystem can exist harmoniously. By replacing current practices with rotational grazing, cattle ranchers gain a healthier herd and more profits while safeguarding the ecological integrity and wildlife of the world's largest wetland system. The study published in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science is a rare instance of a win-win situation.
FACTS ON THE CERRADO
Land Areas: From approximately 2,031,990 square kilometers originally to 438,910 square kilometers today.
Countries: Almost entirely in Brazil, though it extends a little into Paraguay and Bolivia.
Biodiversity: 10,400 species of plants, nearly half of which are endemic; 935 species of birds; 780 freshwater fish;113 amphibians; 180 reptiles; and almost 300 mammal species. In three insect orders surveyed: 14,425 species have been catalogued.
Extent of Habitat Cover: Just over 21 percent of the cerrado remains.
Habitat Loss Rate: 21,000 square kilometers of cerrado was destroyed annually between 2002 and 2008, twice the rate of the Amazon rainforest. Between 1984 and 2004, the cerrado ecosystem declined by 1.1 percent every year.
Causes of Habitat Loss: Mechanized soy farms, cattle ranches, and some other crops.
OVERVIEW: THE CERRADO
The cerrado is a vast tropical and subtropical biome covering more than 20 percent of Brazil, it includes a number of ecosystems from tall closed forests to marshlands to open grassland. The largest savannah in South America, the name of the ecosystem, cerrado, translates as 'closed', and the region was long-considered by Brazilians as essentially worthless land. That was until the 1960s when farmers from the US began conditioning the soil with the chemical lime, improving its quality and growing capacity, and thereby transforming the savannah into agricultural fields.
Now the cerrado is one of Brazil's most threatened ecosystems. Half of the ecosystem has been destroyed for mechanized soy farms and cattle ranches. Over the past decade, two million hectares of the cerrado vanished every year to agriculture and pasture. Conservationists predict the possibility of a complete eradication of the ecosystem by 2030.
Long ignored by conservationists and environmentalists the cerrado is home to a shocking number of species, even given comparisons to its biologically-rich neighbors: the Amazon and the nearly-vanished Atlantic Forest. Of the ecosystems' some 10,000 species of plant, nearly half are endemic to the cerrado. Nearly a thousand birds and three-hundred mammals have been recorded in the cerrado as well. For a wooded savannah ecosystem with a long dry season, the cerrado is extremely rich in life.
Researchers have also begun to recognize the cerrado's importance for Brazil's waterways, since the headwaters of many of the nation's rivers begin in this savannah. The ecosystem plays an important role in carbon-cycling. Brazil's Environment Minister, Carlos Minc, has said that carbon emissions from the destruction of the cerrado are equal to those from the destruction of the Amazon.
The cerrado lies almost entirely in Brazil, though a small extent reaches into northeastern Paraguay and eastern Bolivia.
The ecosystem covers a number of central Brazilian states including Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás Distrito Federal, and Tocantins; as well as western Minas Gerais and Bahia; southern Maranhão and Piauí; and small portions of São Paulo and Paraná.
The cerrado is tropical savannah characterized by the annual average temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsisu) to nearly 79 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius). The dry colder season extends from May to October. The soil is mostly nutrient poor.
The cerrado biome is home to a variety of ecosystems, including dry forests, grasslands, wetlands, shrublands, savannah, gallery forests, and even wet forests.
Gallery forests are trees and vegetation that line rivers and other waterways in otherwise savannah-type landscapes.
In total, researchers have found nearly 300 species of mammals, 780 fish, 300 amphibians and reptiles, and 935 species of bird in the cerrado region. In addition, over 14,000 species of insect have been identified from just three insect orders out of 32: Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps, and sawflies), and Isoptera (termites).
But the biggest biological stunner of the cerrado is its plant species: 4,400 of the cerrado's 10,000 species of plants are found no-where else in the world. Due to a long dry season, these plants have evolved remarkable resistance both to fire and drought.
The uniqueness of the cerrado's plant life—and the rampant destruction of the ecosystem—makes these species especially vulnerable to extinction. A recent study estimated that plant species in the cerrado are twice as likely to go extinct than plants in other Brazilian ecosystems, including the Amazon.
New species are still being found in the cerrado: in 2007 two new species of lizard were described by researchers and in 2008 researchers announced the discovery of 14 species new to science: 8 fish, 3 reptiles, a bird, and even a new mammal.
While new species are being discovered, others have gone extinct. The candango mouse (Juscelinomys candango) was first described in 1965, but hasn't been seen since losing all of its habitat to urban development and suburban sprawl in Brasilia.
Some largely endemic species of the cerrado include:
A 2007 Conservation International study found that by 1985, 27 percent of the cerrado was lost. In less than twenty years (2004) the percentage lost rose to 57. During that time the cerrado declined 1.1 percent every year, while the Brazilian Amazon declined by less than 0.5 percent per year over the past decade.
In addition, the spread of soy and other crops (corn and rice) have indirectly impacted the Amazon rainforest: a boom in agriculture has pushed livestock from the cerrado into the Amazon's edges leading to continuing deforestation of the world's biggest rainforest.
Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park: Located in the state of Goias, Brazil, Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park spreads over 655 square kilometers on some of Brazil's highest plateaus. Sporting large canyons, dramatic mountains, and stunning waterfalls, this protected area in the cerrado has been listed as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site.
Emas National Park: Named after the greater rhea, Emas National Park is also a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. Home to rhea, jaguar, giant anteater, maned wolf, and pumas, the park, which is dominated in part by termite mounds, lies in central western Brazil and covers 1,300 square kilometers.
Serra do Tombador Nature Preserve: This is a private reserve created by the Nature Conservancy and the Brazilian organization, O Boticario. Covering 89 square miles kilometers, the reserve is small compared to some of the National Parks but represents a non-government designated protected area. The Nature Conservancy hopes to establish a corridor between the Serra do Tombador Nature Preserve and Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park.
Photo story: How harvesting of cerrado fruits can help protect the ecosystem.
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