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Originally, a quarter of the Brazilian territory was occupied by the cerrado. By the 1990s, however, 47 million hectares had already been replaced by planted pasture or grain crops.
A vegetal formation characteristic of the Brazilian Midwest, the Cerrado is made up of relatively low and tortuous trees, scattered among shrubs, underbrush and grass.
The structure of the cerrado basically comprises two strata: the upper, formed by trees and shrubs; and the lower, composed of a grass carpet.
The typical cerrado trees reach an average height of ten meters and have a thick bark, sometimes protected by a layer of cork, logs, branches and irregular crowns; some have leathery leaves, sometimes hard enough to rattle in the wind; in others, the leaves reach huge dimensions and fall at the end of the dry season.
The Cerrado predominates in the states of Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás and Tocantins. The most extensive areas of this type of vegetation appear in places of hot and humid climate, with well marked summer rains and dry season. Vegetation subtypes occur, such as cerradão, cerradinho and dirty fields. Among the characteristic trees of the cerrados stand out:
- Recycle Bin (Curatella americana)
- Large or small-leafed stickwood (Qualea grandiflora and Qualea parviflora)
- Pequi (Caryocar brasiliensis)
- Holy stick (Kielmeyera coriacea)
- Ipe (Tabebuia caraiba)
- Field Peroba (Aspidosperma tomentosum).
Among the grasses, the most common, are arrowgrass (Tristachya chrysotryx), goat's beard (Aristida pallens) and several species of the genus Androgopon. The typical central plateau soil, where most of the cerrado is located, is made up of sands and clays, loose or consolidated in sandstones and phyllites, and limestone and boulders, resulting from the lifting of the sediments of the early ocean.
The elements that form the upper stratum are provided with deep roots, allowing them to reach the water table, 15 to 20 m deep. This gives them better survival conditions during the dry season. The grasses of the lower stratum, because of their short roots, resent drought most when they enter latency or apparent death.
The creeping carpet then has the appearance of dry straw, which favors the spread of fires triggered by burning. But right after the first rains, everything flourishes and thrives. When properly prepared, the cerrado soil is fertile, as evidenced by the large plantations of soybeans, corn, sorghum and other crops.
However, in the Midwest, immense areas were burned for pasture formation, causing soil impoverishment by burning organic materials, and endangering certain plant and animal species such as the anteater. -flag and the maned wolf. Another threat to the richness of this ecosystem is the indiscriminate planting of homogeneous pine and eucalyptus forests.