Brazil has lost 16% of its herbaceous, shrub vegetation in 38 years

This non-forest vegetation constitutes 6% of the national territory

Published on 03/12/2023 - 09:00 By Camila Boehm - Agência Brasil Reporter - São Paulo - Agência Brasil - São Paulo

Brazil has lost 16 percent of its native non-forest vegetation over the past 38 years, equating to 9.6 million hectares of herbaceous and shrub vegetation cover. This information stems from a pioneering survey conducted by MapBiomas*, on this vegetation, which encompasses small plants lacking woody structures—grasses and herbs—and thin woody trunks, such as shrubs.

Native vegetation, in general, covers 64 percent of Brazil's territory, according to the 2022 MapBiomas mapping. Of this total, most corresponds to forests (58%) and a smaller fraction of the territory is occupied by non-forest vegetation (6%). According to the organization, despite being a minority and little valued, non-forest vegetation is very important due to the great diversity of plant and animal species it shelters, and the ecosystem services it provides.

This type of vegetation spans all six Brazilian biomes—Amazon, Caatinga, Cerrado, Atlantic Forest, Pampa, and Pantanal—in various forms, including grassland formations, flooded fields, marshy areas, and rocky outcrops that represent 95 percent of the country's herbaceous and shrub cover. Predominantly present in the Pampa and Pantanal biomes, this vegetation extends across 50.6 million hectares, surpassing the size of Germany by 1.4 times.

Cavalcante (GO) 12/09/2023 - Vista do cerrado na Comunidade quilombola Kalunga do Engenho II. O cerrado é um dos cinco grandes biomas do Brasil, cobrindo cerca de 25% do território nacional e perfazendo uma área entre 1,8 e 2 milhões de km2
Foto: Joédson Alves/Agência Brasil
The Cerrado biome leads in the deforestation of herbaceous and shrub vegetation, accounting for 2.9 million hectares - Joédson Alves/Agência Brasil

MapBiomas emphasizes that the rate of deforestation for non-forest vegetation mirrors that of forested areas, experiencing rapid and concerning destruction. Over the last 38 years, Brazil has seen a 16 percent loss in natural non-forest vegetation, comparable to the 15 percent loss in native forest cover during the same period, as stated by MapBiomas scientific coordinator Júlia Shimbo.

In absolute terms, the Cerrado biome leads in the deforestation of herbaceous and shrub vegetation, accounting for 2.9 million hectares. Although much smaller, the Pampa biome had very close deforestation in absolute numbers: 2.85 million hectares between 1985 and 2022. It recorded a significant 30 percent loss in vegetation cover, compared to what was there in 1985, proportionally the highest among biomes.

States with the highest proportion of non-forest vegetation include Rio Grande do Sul (26% of the territory), Roraima (20%), and Amapá (14%). The states experiencing the most significant vegetation loss since 1985 are Rio Grande do Sul (3.3 million hectares) and Mato Grosso (1.4 million hectares).

Private areas

MapBiomas reveals that private areas house 61 percent of Brazil's herbaceous and shrub vegetation, around 30 million hectares. In 2022, 20 percent of the remaining vegetation was found in protected areas, primarily in the Amazon. However, non-forest biomes like the Pantanal and Pampa still exhibit low protection levels, accounting for 4.1 percent and 1 percent of the biome, respectively.

*MapBiomas is an initiative of the Climate Observatory's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimates System, produced by a collaborative network of NGOs, universities, and technology companies, organized by biome and cross-cutting themes (pastures, agriculture, coastal zones, etc).

Translation: Mário Nunes -  Edition: Fernando Fraga

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