Damage to Brazil’s vast cerrado grassland results in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those produced by destruction of the Amazon rainforest, said Carlos Minc, the country’s Environment Minister.
Speaking on National Cerrado Day on September 11, Minc said that 21,000 square kilometers of cerrado was destroyed per year between 2002 and 2008, twice the rate of the Amazon rainforest. Nearly half the cerrado has been converted for cattle ranches and mechanized soy farms. Many of these properties are not in compliance with Brazil’s forest code, which requires landowners to keep a portion of their land forested.
Minc said that the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) will soon extend its remote sensing system to the cerrado. Brazil’s system for monitoring deforestation in the Amazon is among of the most advanced in the world.
Minc also said that Brazil will increase the number of protected areas in the cerrado. Currently about 7.5 percent of the cerrado is under some form of protection.
Cerrado species face greatest extinction risk
A recent study showed that species found in the cerrado ecosystem — a woody grassland and forest transition zone — face the highest risk of extinction of Amazonian plants due to forecast loss in habitat. With cerrado habitat declining at more than 3 percent annually, cerrado species face twice the extinction risk as non-cerrado species.
While conversion of the cerrado is often overlooked by environmentalists and authorities due to perceived lack of biological value relative to the Amazon rainforest, the ecosystem is home to more than 12,000 species of plants, nearly half of which are endemic; 935 species of birds; and almost 300 mammal species. Further, recent research indicates that the ecosystem provides important watershed services — serving as the headwaters of many rivers — and plays an integral role in carbon cycling.
Ricardo Machado, author of a 2007 Conservation International study on the cerrado, estimated that the area of cerrado as a percentage of its original 204 million hectares in extent has fallen from around 73 percent in 1985 to around 43 percent in 2004, an annual decline of around 1.1 percent. By comparison, the rainforest in the Brazilian Amazon has diminished by less than 0.5 percent per year over the past decade.