The Cerrado is Brazil’s second largest biome, and the most biodiverse tropical savanna in the world. It is of vital importance for Brazil’s watersheds, for global biodiversity, and is an important but undervalued carbon stock.But in recent decades, half of the Cerrado’s native vegetation has been destroyed to make way for cattle, soy, and other agricultural commodities. In the southern Cerrado, scientists are now shifting their focus to restoring the native vegetationHowever, scientific knowledge on savanna restoration is scarce. So one collaborative network, Restaura Cerrado, is bringing together scientists, seed collectors, and the public to advance practical knowledge about restoration. The group’s goal is to achieve the means for ongoing effective Cerrado restoration.Restaura Cerrado is a collaboration between ICMBio, the University of Brasília, the Cerrado Seeds Network, and Embrapa (the Brazilian Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Research Enterprise); together they hope to use restoration to bring sustainable development to the savanna region. Along with its restoration activities, the Restaura Cerrado network is also engaged in public education on the vital importance of the savanna. Image by ICMBio / Fernando Tatagiba When landscape architect Mariana Siqueira moved from Rio to Brasília, Brazil’s capital, six years ago, she was surprised to learn she was now living in the middle of the Cerrado — the world’s most biodiverse savanna. “In Brazil, when we think of savanna, we think of Africa,” she says. “We think of wide open plains and giraffes and other charismatic animals.” A short time later, Siqueira became aware that the Brazilian Cerrado is the most biodiverse savanna on Earth, but that its vast array of plants and animals is fast vanishing. When a new client asked her to design a “Cerrado garden” using native plants, she was shocked to learn that not a single nursery stocked the native Cerrado grasses and shrubs that dominate the biome’s ecosystems. Ironically, in the midst of so much biodiversity, the nurseries focused instead almost exclusively on exotic plants. That’s not just a problem for landscape architects, but also for environmentalists trying to restore Brazil’s second largest biome. The Cerrado covers around two million square kilometers (772,204 square miles), more than 20% of the nation’s territory. Today, it still harbors about a third of the country’s biodiversity, even after losing a staggering 50% of its native vegetation area to rapidly expanding agribusiness. Worse news: because the world, and even some ecologists, have been slow to recognize the value and diversity of the savanna, very few protected areas exist in the vast region of grasslands, shrubs, and sporadic forests, which blankets all or parts of the Brazilian states of Goiás, Mato Grosso do Sul, Mato Grosso, and Minas Gerais in the south; and Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia in the north. “Some authors argue that the Cerrado is the most ancient biome in the world,” notes Siqueira. “And it’s being threatened not only by agriculture, mining and cattle, but another big threat is people that want to plant trees everywhere, as if only trees and forests were the supreme expression of nature.” Such a serious scientific error is understandable, when the dry, scrubby Cerrado is compared to the neighboring, majestic Amazon rainforest. But one research network, the nonprofit Restaura Cerrado group, is turning that historical narrative on its head, demonstrating that Cerrado ecological restoration need not necessarily rely on the planting of trees. Restaura Cerrado is a collaboration between the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio; Brazil’s national park service), the University of Brasília, the Cerrado Seeds Network, and Embrapa (the Brazilian Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Research Enterprise). Made up of scientists, traditional seed collectors, students, and environmentalists, the organization is spearheaded by Alexandre Sampaio and Isabel Schmidt of ICMBio. The organization is pushing back against outdated notions of ecosystem restoration that emphasize reforestation, instead showing that savanna native plant reestablishment, utilizing grasses, is not only desirable but possible. Their pioneering endeavor is also part of a first decisive step toward a multi-million dollar sustainable industry that could be essential to the survival of the biome, for maintaining Brazil’s vital savanna watersheds, and for mitigating regional and global climate change.