Brazilian Biomes

Leopoldo Magno Coutinho

For the contentment of countless former students, colleagues and admirers, LÉO, as he was affectionately called by everyone, delivered the original of this book when in the hospital at the end of his life. Brazilian biomes bases the concepts that define a biome, controversial theme in the comparison of different authors, focusing on climatic zones and zonebiomes, and describes and characterizes the main 16 main biomes of Brazil. It deepens the Amazon to four biomes, from the Forest to the Campinara, and describes the Hot-Temperate Forests, passing through complex systems, such as the Pantanal and the Southern Fields.


Richly illustrated with explanatory maps and colorful photographs of the fauna and characteristic vegetation of each biome, the book presents in a didactic way the most important information of each one: climate, soil, flora and fauna, besides dealing with its operation and dynamics.

Original title
Biomas brasileiros
Year of publication

About the authors

Leopoldo Magno Coutinho

Leopoldo Magno Coutinho was a biologist and a PhD in Botany from the University of São Paulo (USP). He was a “livre-docente” professor, an Adjunct Professor and a Full Professor of Ecology at the Institute of Biosciences at USP. He did a post-doctoral degree at the University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany, in 1961, under the supervision of Prof. Heinrich Walter. During his academic career he was responsible for the discipline of Plant Ecology and for postgraduate disciplines, among them Ecology of the Cerrado, offered in Emas National Park in Goiás. He was responsible for the university extension course Ecology of the Principal Biomes in Brazil. He has guided several Master’s dissertations and PhD’s theses, having participated in numerous national and international congresses, presenting works in his area of specialty. He is the author of several scientific and dissemination articles, book chapters and the Botany textbook, edited by Cultrix.


Brazil lost one of its great ecologists and botanists, Leopoldo Magno Coutinho (1934-2016). Léo, as he was known by his friends, was a tireless researcher of Brazilian ecosystems and the ecology of Brazilian plants. He has always had a great deal of concern for teaching and has devoted himself to clarifying and disseminating key conceptual issues for tropical ecology, as exemplified by this valuable book. This work is part of the great tradition of biogeographical research on Latin American ecosystems, initiated by the great German (Prussian) naturalist Friedrich Heinrich Alexander, Baron von Humboldt (1769-1859), who, with this travel partner, the French botanist Aimé Jacques Goujaud Bonpland (1773-1858) made between 1799 and 1804 the great scientific expedition of the Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent (Americas, including Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico and Cuba; not in Brazil because he was barred by Portuguese authorities at the border, in the upper Rio Negro region). This famous expedition resulted in a prodigious series of scientific publications, especially the inaugural works of the world biogeographic research: Essai sur la géographie des plantes (1807), Tableaux de la nature (1808) and Cosmos: essai d’une description physique du monde (1847-1852).
The first scientific descriptions and illustrations on the different Brazilian ecosystems and vegetation were made by the French botanist Auguste de Saint-Hilaire (1779-1853) and by the German (Bavarian) botanist Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius (1794-1868). Saint-Hilaire,author of the famous Trips to the Interior of Brazil, to the Cisplatina Province [=Uruguay] and to the Missions of Paraguay, made between 1816 and 1822, among his many important contributions to the Brazilian botany published in Tableau géographique de la végétation primitive dans la province de Minas Geraes (1831). Martius, in partnership with the Bavarian zoologist Johann Baptist von Spix (1781-1826), of the famous Travel through Brazil 1817-1820, part of the great Austrian scientific mission to Brazil organized by the inspiration of Princess Leopoldina on the occasion of her honeymoon trip to Brazil, among his important publications on the Brazilian flora, with emphasis on Flora Brasiliensis, wrote Die Physiognomie des Pflanzen-Reiches in Brasilien (1824) and Tabulae Physiognomicae: Brasiliae Regiones iconibus expressas descripsit deque Vegetatione illius Terrae uberius (1840). This great tradition of biogeographical and ecological studies continued in the studies of the great Danish ecologist Johannes Eugenius Bülow Warming (1841-1924), who studied between 1863 and 1866 the ecology of the Cerrado in the region of Lagoa Santa, Minas Gerais, as part of the expeditions led by the Danish naturalists Peter Wilhelm Lund (1801-1880) and Johannes Theodor Reinhardt (1816-1882), resulting from these studies the influent Lagoa Santa, contribution to Phytobiological Geography (1892) and Lehrbuch der ökologischen Pflanzengeographie Eine Einführung in die Kenntnis der Pflanzenwereine (1896).
Although he worked with several Brazilian ecosystems, particularly in the Atlantic Forest and Cerrado, Léo’s passion was undoubtedly the Cerrado and the ecology of fire in it. I had the privilege of interacting with Leo on the issue of fire ecology in the Cerrado. When, in the late 80s and early 90s, I had the opportunity to plan and coordinate a large-scale multi-institutional experimental research project on this fire ecology, in partnership with Professor Heloisa Sinatora Miranda, from the Department of Ecology of the University of Brasília, I counted on the advice and wisdom of Léo to decide on the best option for experimental treatments with controlled fire in different Cerrado phytophysiognomies. The experiment, called simply Fire Project, funded by CNPq, was implemented in the IBGE Ecological Reserve in the Jardim Botânico Ecological Station in Brasília, two contiguous research and conservation areas in the south of Brasília. This project offered the best opportunity to investigate details of fire ecology in the Cerrado under controlled conditions, testing the impact of fire on flora, fauna, soil and atmosphere under different burning regimes (frequency and time of year). It should be remembered here that Léo was trying unsuccessfully to obtain authorization from the environmental authorities of the State of São Paulo to conduct research with controlled burning in remnants of Cerrado in the State.
For years he had been researching the ecology of fire in Cerrado remnants in the countryside of the State of São Paulo, in particular in the Cerrado Biological Reserve of Emas, in the locality of Emas Waterfall, near Pirassununga, linked to the old Experimental Station of Hunting and Fishing of Emas, later Station of Pisciculture [and Hydrobiology] of Pirassununga, established in 1927 under the leadership of Rodolpho Theodor Wilhelm Gaspar von Ihering (1883-1939), where ecological research on the Cerrado was initiated in the 40s by the professor of University of São Paulo Felix Rawitcher (1890-1957), Mário Guimarães Ferri (1918-1985) and Leopoldo Coutinho and his students, resulting in a profitable and uninterrupted series of researches, master’s dissertations, PhD theses and research publications on the ecology of the Cerrado, embryo of the famous Symposiums about the Cerrado initiated by Mário Guimarães Ferri. Emas Waterfall can be considered the great heiress and continuation of ecological research in the Cerrado initiated by the Danish expeditions in Lagoa Santa.
I would like to conclude this presentation by offering a more optimistic perspective on the conservation of Brazilian biomes and their biodiversity to counterbalance the pessimistic view present by Léo in the final chapter of this work. Although he had ample reason to express his pessimism, given the accelerated degree of destruction and loss of Brazilian ecosystems especially in the twentieth century, we should recall some hopeful news: on a global level, Brazil was the country responsible for the largest expansion of protected areas (Conservation Units) in the 90s and 00s, promoted the greatest reduction of deforestation rates in the last decade and made the greatest effort to evaluate the fauna state of conservation (and a major effort on flora), besides being the country with the largest number of endangered species with actions plans for its recovery and having the largest network of ecological corridors on the planet, created by requirement of the Forestry Code (areas of permanent preservation and legal reserves, reinforced by requirements of the Rural Environmental Registry approved in 2012). It should also be noted that Brazil has had a great expansion and consolidation of its environmental legislation and its environmental public institutions since the 70s, it has an efficient and independent Public Prosecutor’s Office with the mission, among others, to watch over fuzzy interests (including environmental) of Brazilian society, and has the largest scientific community in the Southern Hemisphere dedicated to biodiversity, as well was the world’s largest and most systematic biome satellite monitoring program.
In summary, despite persistent human pressures, Brazil still accounts for about two-thirds of its territory covered by native vegetation (not all well conserved or sustainably managed) and about half of the territory legally protected (even if the implementation of actions are still to be desired). If there is a country that can fully achieve the goal recently proposed by Edward O. Wilson, Emeritus Professor at Harvard University, in his new book Half-Earth: our planet’s fight for life (2016), this country is Brazil, where about 17% of the continental national territory is designated as Conversation Units (about half managed by the Federal Government, through the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation, and the other half managed by state governments), about 13% is designated and demarcated as indigenous lands and about 20% is designated as private rural properties defined as permanent preservation areas and legal reserves by the Forestry Code.
With the help of Léo, we managed to convince legislators in Brasília to include a chapter in the revision of the Forestry Code approved in 2012 allowing the use of prescribed fire as an instrument of vegetation management.
After all, Brazilian legislators welcomed the conclusions of decades of research on fire ecology in the Cerrado and other savannas in the world, as well as in rural ecosystems and in many forest ecosystems. This will allow the consideration of the ecological functions of fire in vegetation management decisions that present evolutionary of adaptation to fire, to avoid the risks of large fires associated with the accumulation of biomass resulting from the absence or suppression of fire and to maintain the heterogeneity of phytophysiognomies typical of biomes such as the Brazilian Cerrado. We owe this much to the research conducted by Léo and his students! In order to know a biome, as Léo explains, it is not enough to know its structure and species composition – it is necessary to know its functioning and dynamics, as illustrated by the research on fire ecology in the Cerrado biome.
I invite everyone, therefore, to read this book, especially the young ones, to better know the Brazilian biomes and to help to promote a better and better conservation and sustainable use of their biodiversity, as foreseen in the commitments assumed by Brazil in the Convention on Biological Diversity, signed in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio 92), and ratified by the National Congress in February 1994.

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias