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NATURE ECOLOGY & EVOLUTION 1, 0099 (2017) | DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0099 | www.nature.com/natecolevol 1
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PUBLISHED: 23 MARCH 2017 | VOLUME: 1 | ARTICLE NUMBER: 0099
Moment of truth for the
Cerrado hotspot
Bernardo B. N. Strassburg, Thomas Brooks, Rafael Feltran-Barbieri, Alvaro Iribarrem, Renato Crouzeilles,
Rafael Loyola, Agnieszka E. Latawiec, Francisco J. B. Oliveira Filho, Carlos A. de M. Scaramuzza,
Fabio R. Scarano, Britaldo Soares-Filho and Andrew Balmford
Despite projections of a severe extinction event, a window of opportunity is now open for a mix of
policies to avoid biodiversity collapse in the Cerrado hotspot.
Brazil’s success in lowering Amazon
deforestation rates by 70% from 2005
to 2013 risks becoming overshadowed
by rapid clearance of the adjacent Cerrado
biome. As we report here, across these
200 million hectares (Mha) of tropical
savanna, a perfect storm of agribusiness
expansion, infrastructure development, low
legal protection and limited conservation
incentives is set to trigger an extinction
episode of global signicance. is dismal
scenario, however, can be averted. Large
yield gaps in converted lands mean food
production could still be greatly increased
even while reducing the footprint of
farming1. Legal frameworks, policy
instruments and multi-stakeholder
agreements that largely account for the
remarkable events in the Amazon are
slowly being applied in the Cerrado, but
must be scaled-up2. Many pivotal decisions
will be made in the coming months (Fig.1
and Supplementary Table1). We urge
national policymakers and international
stakeholders in positions to do so to rescue
the Cerrado from the brink, and deliver
a step change in Brazil’s progress towards
sustainabledevelopment.
A hotspot under threat
With over 4,800 plant and vertebrate species
found nowhere else, the Cerrado is a global
biodiversity hotspot. It also spans three of
the largest watersheds in South America,
contributing 43% of Brazils surface water
outside the Amazon. Despite its enormous
importance for species conservation and
the provision of ecosystem services, the
Cerrado has lost 88Mha (46%) of its native
vegetation cover, and as little as 19.8%
remains undisturbed. Between 2002 and
2011, deforestation rates in the Cerrado (1%
per year) were 2.5 times higher than in the
Amazon.
Current protection remains weak.
Public protected areas cover only 7.5%
of the biome (compared with 46% of the
Amazon), and under Brazil’s Forest Code,
only 20% (compared with 80% in the
Amazon) of private lands are required to
be set aside for conservation. As a result,
40% of remaining natural vegetation can
now be legally converted3. e country’s Soy
Moratorium, a key element in preventing
almost all direct conversion of the Amazon
to soy cultivation4, does not apply to the
Cerrado. Of the remaining Cerrado, 88.4%
is suitable for growing soybeans, and 68.7%
for sugarcane, crops for which demand
is predicted to rise steeply in coming
decades1. Moreover, potential funding for
conservation from climate change mitigation
funding bodies is currently limited.
Despite warnings that REDD+ payments
(‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation
and Degradation, a mechanism under the
UN Convention on Climate Change) might
undermine conservation in biodiversity-rich
but relatively carbon-poor regions5 and even
though the Cerrado accounts for 26% of
Brazilian emissions from land-use change6,
the current rules of Brazil’s main climate
funding stream — the Amazon Fund —
preclude conservation investments (except
in monitoring) outside the Amazon.
We combined recent data from Brazil’s
most comprehensive assessment of its
species threat status to date (Brazil’s
2014 Red List) with two state-of-the-art
projections of land-use change for the
Cerrado7,8 . e picture we found is sombre.
In this ‘business-as usual’ (BAU) scenario,
the combination of limited protection
and marked pressure from agricultural
expansion explains the projections that
31–34% of the remaining Cerrado is
likely to cleared by 20507 (Fig.1a,b). Our
calculations based on the species–area
relationship suggest that this projected
deforestation will drive ~480endemic
plant species to extinction— over three
times all documented plant extinctions
since the year 1500 (Fig.1d, see also
Supplementary Information). is will in
turn have profound consequences for Brazil’s
environmental standing and damaging
repercussions for its agribusiness sector.
Our species-by-species assessments using
a continuous model for extinction risk9
indicate extinctions will be pronounced
among those 397 threatened endemic
plant species whose distributions have
been individually mapped (Fig.1e and
Supplementary Information). Global
losses will also be accompanied by local
extinctions, potentially changing the
functioning of ecosystems and their ability
to provide services to local and regional
communities. In addition, the anticipated
conversion will emit up to 8.5PgCO2e
(petagrams of CO2 equivalent) — over
2.5times all the emissions reductions
achieved in the Amazon between 2005
and2013.
Sustainable scenario within reach
Nonetheless, this scenario is entirely
avoidable without compromising
agricultural growth (Fig.1c). Our ‘Greener
Cerrado’ scenario illustrates a possible
alternative in which a policy mix is put in
place to reconcile agricultural expansion,
conservation of the remaining Cerrado and
restoration of critical habitat for endangered
species. Deployment of policies already
in place or under revision could enable
achievement of all of the region’s projected
increase in crop and beef production without
further conversion of original vegetation,
and even allow for targeted restoration.
e growth of soybean and sugarcane
production — projected to increase by 13.4
2 NATURE ECOLOGY & EVOLUTION 1, 0099 (2017) | DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0099 | www.nature.com/natecolevol
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and 1.9Mha, respectively, by 2050 — could
be accommodated within agronomically
suitable areas currently under pasture (and
near current crop production centres and
infrastructure) (Fig.1c). As in the Amazon,
the soybean industry thus has the potential
to lead the transition towards sustainability
by expanding its moratorium on converting
natural vegetation to theCerrado.
Changes in the region’s livestock
production to make space for this crop
expansion without increasing conversion
of the Cerrado to new pastures are also
essential. Planted pasturelands account
for 76Mha of the Cerrado. Yet stocking
rates (livestock per hectare) average only
35% of carrying capacity1 (Fig.1b). In
a Greener Cerrado scenario, increasing
productivity to 61% of sustainable potential
until 2050 would spare all the land needed
for cropland expansion, increase beef
production by 49% and still spare 6.38Mha
for restoration, equivalent to the current
Forest Code decit in the Cerrado (Fig.1c).
Such a land-sparing strategy carries the
risk of a ‘rebound eect’ (when increased
productivity leads to increased prots, which
in turn spurs more expansion), but when
coupled with complementary conservation
measures, as proposed here, these risks are
minimized10. Furthermore, there is evidence
this is already happening in the south and
southeast regions of Brazil1, where the
expansion of croplands is compensated
by even greater reduction in pasturelands,
without compromising livestock production.
e choice facing the cattle industry and
its partners is thus between being the
main driver of the collapse of biodiversity
and ecosystems (Fig.1a,d,e) or being
a central player in a more sustainable
future. Choosing the latter option requires
alignment of public and private policies: the
Brazilian government expanding its low-
carbon agriculture plan, and the beef supply
chain and its partners banning further
conversion of naturalvegetation.
Greater direct support for conservation
is also needed, on both public and private
land. It is vital that Brazilian society supports
proposals to extend the Cerrado network
of public protected areas, and that this
expansion be strategically planned to take
into account biodiversity, deforestation threat,
and the need to safeguard endemic-rich areas
potentially capable of acting as refugia under
climate change. In parallel, regulation of the
nascent market for Forest Code decit osets
could help conserve key biodiversity areas
on private lands by fostering, for example,
payments for ecosystem services and private
conservation areas. A set of policies aimed
specically at threatened species should
be expanded and used to inform all other
policies discussed here.
Restoration is key
Complementing conservation of remaining
original vegetation by targeting restoration
to critical areas, as recommended in the
recent National Restoration Plan11, could
help conserve >650 threatened endemic
plant and vertebrate species we estimate to
be undergoing an extinction process due to
past deforestation (Fig.1d–f, Supplementary
Tables2,3). Indeed, the restoration included
in the Greener Cerrado scenario, which
would be a consequence of enforcing the
Forest Code, could avert up to 83% of
projected extinctions if directed towards
critical areas such as ecological corridors
(Supplementary Table4).
Climate nance — through expanding
the Amazon Fund coverage to the Cerrado,
as currently under discussion by the fund’s
managers and donors, and channelling
additional resources from the new Green
Climate Fund — could play a major role in
supporting these activities, commensurate
with the importance of Cerrado conservation
and restoration in climate change mitigation.
is case is likely to be even stronger when
climate change adaptation is considered, given
the strategic relevance of Cerrado watersheds
for Brazil’s water and energy security12. e
National REDD+ Strategy13 is a crucial policy
in this context. It already includes a focus
on biodiversity safeguards, which could be
expanded to incentivize biodiversity co-
benets that could make carbon storage more
resilient. A key policy that has the potential to
integrate many of the above is the PPCerrado
Action Plan14, currently planning its third
phase (2016–2020).
139
657
1,140
Global
recorded
Current
debt
Projected
under BAU
0375 750 km
a
bc
fe
d
Cerrado 2050
Habitat Loss 2012–2050
Cerrado
Croplands
Cerrado
Croplands
Restoration
0
200
400
600
800
1,000
1,200
1,400
1,600
100
0
Pasture prod.
(% potential)
Projected
extinctions
15
0
Plant extinctions
Figure 1 | Land use, deforestation and extinctions in the Cerrado. a, Projected deforestation (2012–2050)
and Cerrado remnants in 2050, based on a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario. b, Land use in 2050 under
BAU, and stocking rates as per cent of sustainable carrying capacity assuming continuation of the current
yield gap in pasturelands. c, Land use in 2050 under a Greener Cerrado scenario based on narrowing
the yield gap in pasturelands and restoring 6.4 Mha. d, Comparison of global recorded plant extinctions
to date, the estimated current extinction debt among threatened endemic Cerrado plants given past
deforestation (based on z = 0.25; see Supplementary Information), and the projected extinction debt
by 2050 under BAU. Upper and lower error bars show extinction debts based on z = 0.35 and 0.15,
respectively. e, Projected extinctions among 397 endemic plant species based on BAU habitat loss until
2050. f, Xyris uninervis, a threatened endemic Cerrado species predicted to lose its entire global range
under BAU, and to regain ~100,000 ha under a Greener Cerrado scenario. Panel f reproduced with
permission from Maria das Graças L. Wanderley.
NATURE ECOLOGY & EVOLUTION 1, 0099 (2017) | DOI: 10.1038/s41559-017-0099 | www.nature.com/natecolevol 3
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Each of these policies is already in
place in some form in Brazil. What is
now required is a concerted eort from
all stakeholders — governments, supply
chain actors, nancial agents, NGOs and
individuals — to prevent the Cerrado’s
environmental collapse. Brazil has done it
before, providing environmental leadership
and positioning its agricultural sector at the
vanguard of post-2020 clean supply-chain
and low-carbon development markets.
is great strategic advantage, however,
is now at risk of being compromised
by a deforestation surge which would
precipitate plant extinctions of catastrophic
proportions. Not only is there a moral
imperative, it is also in all these stakeholders
interests to take the substantial but
demonstrably achievable steps needed to
avert this crisis.
Bernardo B. N. Strassburg1,2, omas Brooks3,
Rafael Feltran-Barbieri2,4, Alvaro Iribarrem1,2,5,
Renato Crouzeilles1,2, Rafael Loyola6,7, Agnieszka E.
Latawiec1,2,8, Francisco J. B. Oliveira Filho9, Carlos
A. de M. Scaramuzza10, Fabio R. Scarano11,12,
Britaldo Soares-Filho13 and Andrew Balmford14 are
at 1Rio Conservation and Sustainability Science
Centre (CSRio), Department of Geography and
the Environment, Pontical Catholic University of
Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro 22430-060, Brazil;
2International Institute of Sustainability, Rio de
Janeiro 22460-320, Brazil; 3International Union for
Conservation of Nature, Gland 1196, Switzerland;
4World Resources Institute, Washington DC 20002,
USA; 5Ecosystem Services and Management
programme, International Institute for Applied
Systems Analysis (IIASA), Laxenburg A-2361,
Austria; 6Universidade Federal de Goiás,
Goiânia 74001-970, Brazil; 7Centro Nacional de
Conservação da Flora, Rio de Janeiro 22470-180,
Brazil; 8Institute of Agricultural Engineering and
Informatics, Faculty of Production and Power
Engineering, University of Agriculture in Cracow,
Cracow 31-120, Poland; 9Department of Geography,
University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3EJ,
UK; 10Brazilian Ministry of Environment, Brasília
70068-900, Brazil; 11Fundação Brasileira para o
Desenvolvimento Sustentável, Rio de Janeiro 22610-
180, Brazil; 12Department of Ecology, Universidade
Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro,
21941-970, Brazil; 13Federal University of Minas
Gerais, Belo Horizonte 31270-901, Brazil; and
14Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge,
Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK.
e-mail: b.strassburg@iis-rio.org
References
1. Strassburg, B.B.N. etal. Glob. Environ. Change 28, 84–97
(2014).
2. Overbeck, G.E. etal. Divers. Distrib. 21, 1455–1460 (2015).
3. Soares-Filho, B. etal. Science 344, 363–364 (2014).
4. Gibbs, H.K. etal. Science 347, 377–378 (2014).
5. Strassburg, B.B.N. etal. Conserv. Lett. 3, 98–105 (2010).
6. Rajão, R. & Soares-Filho, B.S. Science 350, 519–519 (2015).
7. Soares-Filho, B.S. etal. PLoS ONE 11, e0152311 (2016).
8. Câmara, G. etal. Modelling Land Use Change in Brazil: 2000–
2050 (INPE, IPEA, IIASA, UNEP-WCMC, 2015).
9. Strassburg, B.B.N. etal. Nat. Clim. Change 2, 350–355 (2012).
10. Phalan, B. etal. Science 351, 450–451 (2016).
11. PLANAVEG: e National Vegetation Recovery Plan Federal
decree no. 8.972/2017 (Ministériodo Meio Ambiente, 2017).
12. Spera, A.A. etal. Glob. Change Biol . 22, 3405–3413 (2016).
13. ENREDD: e National REDD+ Strategy (Ministério do Meio
Ambiente, 2016).
14. PPCerrado: Plano de Ação Para Prevenção e Controle do
Desmatamento e das Queimadas no Cerrado: 2ª fase (2014–2015)
(Ministério do Meio Ambiente, 2014).
Acknowledgements
e authors gratefully acknowledge the help of A.Cosenza,
A.Oliveira, F.Barros, I.Lorenzini, J.Silveira dos Santos and
M.Pereira with the preparation of gures.
Additional information
Supplementary information is available for this paper.
Competing interests
e authors declare no competing nancial interests.
Goals
Reduce habitat loss
Restore habitat
Make space
Improve land-use
planning
Identify critical
areas for
conservation
Identify critical
areas for
restoration
Increase protection
Expand
protected areas
Improve monitoring
and enforcement
67
Redirect cropland
expansion into
pasturelands
Improve productivity
of existing pasturelands
12
3
4
Create incentives
Improve incentives
for retaining
Cerrado
Improve
incentives for
restoring Cerrado
8
9
Cerrado
Monitoring
Programme
7
Low Carbon
Agriculture Plan
2
3
Policies for
endangered
species
6
4
5
Forest Code,
including its
oset market 8
9
Climate
Finance and
National REDD+
Strategy 8
9
Soy
Moratorium 1
9
National
Restoration Plan
8
5
Expand to Cerrado Accelerate, focus on critical areas ReactivatePolicy opportunities and required actions
Cerrado
Action Plan
7
5
Identify critical areas
for increased
agricultural
production
Figure 2 | The main public and private policies needed to retain and restore key Cerrado habitats while enabling agricultural expansion. To make space for
deforestation-free agricultural expansion, increasing pasture productivity needs to be coupled with incentives to direct agricultural expansion to already
converted lands, from increased climate finance and an expansion of the Soy Moratorium to Cerrado, to sugarcane and to beef. Increased protection would
safeguard critical habitats and reinforce pressure for farm expansion into already converted lands. Improved land-use planning is vital to ensure eorts are
focused in the most appropriate areas for reconciling agricultural expansion, conservation and restoration.
... Promote intensification of production Strassburg et al. (2017) found that current productivity of Brazilian cultivated land is 33% of its potential and that by increasing productivity to 50% it will be possible to meet demand for meat, crops and biofuels until 2040 without further deforestation. More intensive soy cultivation can be achieved either by replacing pasture with cropland or by increasing soy productivity per hectare on existing plantations. ...
... As well as being mentioned by interviewees, this approach is promoted by the Soft Commodities Forum in the Cerrado and has been adopted by some major traders (WBCSD, 2019). However, it worth noting that antideforestation commitments that only target regions with high conversion rates have been shown to be more likely to result in deforestation displacement to other regions unless they are combined with more intensive production (le Polain de Waroux et al., 2019b;Strassburg et al., 2017). ...
... As one of the participants stressed, 'in soy, we (Garrett et al., 2019;Haupt et al., 2018;Kuepper et al., 2019;le Polain de Waroux et al., 2019b;Stabile et al., 2020;Strassburg et al., 2017;Vörösmarty et al., 2018). ...
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... Habitat loss and natural vegetation fragmentation are major causes of global biodiversity decline (Grande et The aforementioned situation is critical in Cerrado, which is the second-largest Brazilian biome. Cerrado is considered a hotspot for biodiversity conservation and a provider of ecosystem services (Colli et al., 2020;Strassburg et al., 2017). Despite its importance, almost half of Cerrado natural areas had already been converted to other land uses. ...
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... Altogether, our data indicate a pattern of Veredas distribution throughout the range of the TMAP region. This is especially important in a climate change scenario where Cerrado temperature increases and precipitation decreases (Vose et al. 2005;Strassburg et al. 2017;Hofmann et al. 2021). Thus, Veredas tend to become drier, groundwater tends to decrease the flow of the rivers from central Brazil and WPE tends to increase, leading to the loss of this important environment. ...
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... The rapid and ongoing conversion of natural forests into plantations and pastures threat biodiversity and ecosystem functions of the Cerrado biome, which is the world's most species-rich savanna and one of the largest biomes of South America (Strassburg et al., 2017, Eiten, 1994. Despite the relatively small area that riparian forests of Cerrado occupy, they hold one third of the plant species diversity, representing the greatest number of species per unit area within this biome (Paiva et al., 2015;Silva et al., 2008). ...
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The way vegetation is officially named, classified, and identified has critical implications for ecosystems and biodiversity conservation. Yet little attention is given to how such issues hinder the efficacy of laws mandating environmental conservation on private land. In the Brazilian Amazon where half of the land is now already under private tenure or is available for future land-uses, differences in vegetation mapping and interpretation directly affect the level of protection in private rural properties, especially in transition areas where forest and savanna areas intermingle. Since Brazil’s Native Vegetation Protection Law (NVPL) attaches a higher percentage of protection to forest-located properties, landowners may be tempted to use conflicting mappings and different vegetation classifications to claim their properties are located in areas other than forests to reduce their conservation requirements. In this paper, we compare three official vegetation databases and examine different law interpretation scenarios to assess the extent to which the level of private conservation may fluctuate. We found a difference of up to 430,000 km2 of protected vegetation (an area the size of Iraq) according to the database and vegetation characteristics chosen. This technical ambiguity may lead to make additional deforestation legal or reduce sharply the amount of vegetation to be restored for these areas, if left unaddressed. Clarifying the database and criteria used to define forest is critical, especially as Brazilian states may make different choices in that regard, and cases in which loopholes are exploited occurred in the recent past. Given the importance of this region for global biodiversity conservation and climate, we highlight the urgent need to: (1) support additional research to clarify vegetation characteristics and location; (2) agree on a harmonized methodology to determine forests for NVPL implementation, and (3) explore alternative criteria for defining forests when databases conflict.
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Historically, conservation-oriented research and policy in Brazil have focused on Amazon deforestation, but a majority of Brazil's deforestation and agricultural expansion has occurred in the neighboring Cerrado biome, a biodiversity hotspot comprised of dry forests, woodland savannas, and grasslands. Resilience of rainfed agriculture in both biomes likely depends on water recycling in undisturbed Cerrado vegetation; yet little is known about how changes in land-use and land-cover affect regional climate feedbacks in the Cerrado. We used remote sensing techniques to map land-use change across the Cerrado from 2003-2013. During this period, cropland agriculture more than doubled in area from 1.2 to 2.5 million ha, with 74% of new croplands sourced from previously intact Cerrado vegetation. We find that these changes have decreased the amount of water recycled to the atmosphere via evapotranspiration (ET) each year. In 2013 alone, cropland areas recycled 14 km(3) less (-3%) water than if the land cover had been native Cerrado vegetation. ET from single-cropping systems (e.g., soybeans) is less than from natural vegetation in all years, except in the months of January and February, the height of the growing season. In double-cropping systems (e.g., soybeans followed by corn), ET is similar to or greater than natural vegetation throughout a majority of the wet season (December - May). As intensification and extensification of agricultural production continue in the region, the impacts on the water cycle and opportunities for mitigation warrant consideration. For example, if an environmental goal is to minimize impacts on the water cycle, double-cropping (intensification) might be emphasized over extensification to maintain a landscape that behaves more akin to the natural system. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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In the past decades, Brazil made important progress in the conservation of forest ecosystems. Non-forest ecosystems (NFE), in contrast, have been neglected, even though they cover large parts of the country and have biodiversity levels comparable to forests. To avoid losing much of its biodiversity and ecosystem services, conservation and sustainable land use policies in Brazil need to be extended to NFE. A strategy for conservation of Brazil's NFE should encompass the following elements: (1) creation of new large protected areas in NFE; (2) enforcement of legal restrictions of land use; (3) extension of subsidy programs and governance commitments to NFE; (4) improvement of ecosystem management and sustainable use in NFE; and (5) improvement of monitoring of land use change in NFE. If Brazil managed to extend its conservation successes to NFE, it not only would contribute significantly to conservation of its biodiversity, but also could take the lead in conservation of NFE world-wide. Free download available: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ddi.12380/full
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Deforestation is a main driver of climate change and biodiversity loss. An incentive mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) is being negotiated under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Here we use the best available global data sets on terrestrial biodiversity and carbon storage to map and investigate potential synergies between carbon and biodiversity-oriented conservation. A strong association (rS= 0.82) between carbon stocks and species richness suggests that such synergies would be high, but unevenly distributed. Many areas of high value for biodiversity could be protected by carbon-based conservation, while others could benefit from complementary funding arising from their carbon content. Some high-biodiversity regions, however, would not benefit from carbon-focused conservation, and could become under increased pressure if REDD is implemented. Our results suggest that additional gains for biodiversity conservation are possible, without compromising the effectiveness for climate change mitigation, if REDD takes biodiversity distribution into account.