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IBGE depicts natural cover of Brazilian biomes from 2000 to 2018

Section: Geosciences

September 24, 2020 10h00 AM | Last Updated: September 28, 2020 01h22 PM

All the Brazilian biomes presented a negative balance, but losses have decreased gradually throughout the years. The biggest amounts of natural area reduction were concentrated in the Amazon and in the Cerrado. The Pantanal was the biome with the lowest loss of natural area, both in absolute terms (2.109 km²) and in percentage terms (1.6%). The greatest percentage loss occurred in the Pampa, where 16.8% of natural area, in 2000, was changed by men. 

Between 2000 and 2018, there was deceleration in the losses of natural areas in the country. The greatest deceleration was seen in the Atlantic Forest: from a 8,793 km² loss, between 2000 and 2010, to 577 km² less, between 2016 and 2018. In the Caatinga, in the same periods of reference, losses accounted for 17,165 km² and 1,604 km², respectively. The Atlantic Forest, which has been longer affected by intense occupation, conserves 16.6% of its natural area, the lowest percentage among the biomes. The Caatinga, in turn, the third most preserved biome in the country, has 36.2% of its territory under anthropic influence.

The Brazilian terrestrial biomes, from 2000 to 2018, lost nearly 500 thousand km² of their original cover. In absolute numbers, in this period, the biggest loss was in the Amazon (269.8 mil km²), followed by the Cerrado (152.7 thousand km²). In turn, the greatest percentage loss occurred in the Pampa: 16.8% less of the natural area. Meanwhile, in that same period, the Pantanal had the lowest losses, both in area (-2.1 mil km²) and in percentage (-1.6%). The data are from Ecosystem Accounting: Land Use in Brazilian Biomes (2000-2018), which the IBGE puts out today as a new step towards the inclusion of environmental indicators in the National Accounts.

Between 2000 and 2018, the Amazon lost almost 8% of its forest tree cover, replaced mainly by areas of managed pasture, which went from 248.8 thousand km², in 2000, to 426.4 thousand km², in 2018. In the Cerrado, agriculture grew continuously and at a fast pace, with an area expansion of 102,6 thousand km², from 2000 to 2018. It should be noted that, in 2018, 44.61% of the agricultural areas and 42.73% of the silvicullture areas of Brazil were in the Cerrado Biome.

The Amazon: forest tree cover shrinks due to grazing

The Amazon was the biome with the most losses, between 2000 and 2018: 265,113 km² less, the largest reduction in natural cover in Brazilian biomes. In 2018, its forest cover represented 75.7% of its original area.

The forest tree cover class gave way, above all, to managed pastures, which went from 248,794 km² in 2000 to 426,424 km² of the biome in 2018, and of mosaic of occupations in forest area, which represented 31% of the observed conversions, showing fragmentation of the landscape in the region. It is important to note the gradual growth of cropland in the region, from 17,073 km² in 2000 to 66,350 km² in 2018.

The Amazon, in the period, is marked by the transitions between forest tree cover, mosaic of occupations in forest area and managed pastures, which are often interspersed, but following the general trend of growth of grazing and mosaic of occupations in forest area and decrease in the forest tree cover.

In the Cerrado, accelerated expansion of agriculture reduces grassland and forest tree cover

The most striking feature of land use transformations in the Cerrado Biome is the continuous and accelerated expansion of agriculture, with an increase of 102,603 ​​km² between 2000 and 2018. The areas of grassland and forest cover have also been progressively reduced, giving way to managed pastures and cropland.

Grazing is the second most representative land use class in this biome, and its relevance is due to historical occupation characteristics. In 2018, 44.61% of agricultural areas and 42.73% of Brazil's silviculture areas were in the Cerrado Biome.

From 2000 to 2018, in the Cerrado, there was an increase of 52.92% of agricultural lands and 104.32% of silviculture. The expansion of agriculture is related to agricultural commodities, with two large concentrations. The first, in the Center-South region - encompassing the States of Paraná, São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Goiás and Mato Grosso do Sul, which counts on high investment of those involved, as well as on the soil favoring agricultural activities.

The other concentration, in MATOPIBA (Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí and Bahia), has been occupied by soybean, cotton and other monocultures of grains and cereals, which represents a continuous pattern expansion, from south to north, in the Brazilian agriculture.

The expansion of silviculture, in turn, is associated, in terms of production value, with the activities of the pulp and paper industry, which grew in the mentioned period, followed by the traditional use in the production of firewood and charcoal.

In the Atlantic Forest, natural areas underwent little change in the period

The Atlantic Forest is the only Brazilian terrestrial biome whose predominant land class is not naturally covered. In 2018, forest tree cover represented only 12.6% of its territory, and in 2000, 13.3%. In other words: the natural areas suffered little change in the period, however, they continue to show a decrease. The highlights in class conversions in this biome were agricultural lands and silviculture - which represented 32.9% and 42.7% of the country's areas, respectively. In 2018, there was the most intense growth of the latter, with 33.9%, followed by agricultural lands, with 19.6%.

The Atlantic Forest is the biome with the highest population density in the country, housing 49.3% of the national urban areas in 2018. These peculiar features are due to its history of occupation and urbanization, from the coastal areas towards the interior, in the territorial formation Brazilian.

The Caatinga: low anthropic influence, decreased natural coverage

In 2018, grassland predominated in the Caatinga (46.8%), with only 5.6% of its territory having strict anthropic uses in the form of managed pastures. However, the biome presented a continuous decrease in its natural cover, and grassland had its area reduced by 26,768 km². From 2000 to 2018, about 47.3% of the land use and land cover changes in this biome were related to the conversion of grassland into a mosaic of occupations in grassland.

The mosaic classes are quite representative in the region, due to a high number of small rural establishments, characterized by subsistence crops, small pastures or agroforestry systems.

The Pampa: 15,600 km² less of natural cover, with most of it converted into cropland and silviculture

In the Pampa, grassland predominated in 2018 (37.42%), followed by cropland (36.3%), in addition to 19.3% of the natural barren land in Brazil, which includes dunes and sandbanks. Its territory, however, has undergone quite intense changes in recent decades. Natural grassland suffered a reduction of 15,607 km² between 2000 and 2018. In the period from 2000 to 2018, the largest areas converted from natural areas to other land uses (anthropic) were: 58.0% cropland, and 18.8% in silviculture.

This expansion takes place over sedimentary basins, an important recharge area for the Guarani Aquifer, one of the largest and most important underground water sources in the country. Such substitution took place following the national trend of investment in commodities, especially soybeans and other grains, but also in food crops, such as rice and wheat.

Since the Iberian colonization, extensive cattle farming on native grassland has been the major economic trend in the region, however managed pastures are not representative in the biome. Even though this region is relevant in the production of cattle, horses and other herds, such activities usually take place in the Pampas’ natural grassland.

The Pantanal: smallest decrease in natural areas

The Pantanal was the biome that presented the smallest decreases in natural areas, both in absolute terms (2,109 km²) and in percentages (1.6%). The Pantanal is considered one of the largest continuous extents of wetland on the planet, having about 90% of its area formed by plains, housing 48.3% of the wet area in this relief type in Brazil. In 2018, 87.5% of its territory had natural cover (forest tree cover, grassland and wetland), and the majority (59.9%) of the changes occurred as from 2010 correspond to conversions to managed pastures on natural grassland.

Pasture on grassland has been the traditional trend of the region for about two centuries, with management-intensive grazing and cattle management according to flood and ebb tides. Investment in pasture management, with the planting of different species of exotic forages and the delimitation of pastures, is more profitable, males the activity more competitive and, therefore, has replaced the traditional form of livestock farming in the region.