Caatinga (Portuguese pronunciation: [ka.aˈtĩɡɐ]) is a type of
desert vegetation, and an ecoregion characterized by this vegetation
in interior northeastern Brazil. The name "Caatinga" is a Tupi word
meaning "white forest" or "white vegetation" (caa = forest,
vegetation, tinga = white).
Caatinga is a xeric shrubland and thorn forest, which consists
primarily of small, thorny trees that shed their leaves seasonally.
Cacti, thick-stemmed plants, thorny brush, and arid-adapted grasses
make up the ground layer. Many annual plants grow, flower, and die
during the brief rainy season.
Caatinga falls entirely within earth's
Tropical zone and is one of 6
major ecoregions of Brazil, including the Amazon Basin, Pantanal,
Cerrado, Caatinga, Atlantic Forest, and Pampas. It covers
850,000 km², nearly 10% of Brazil's territory. It is home to
26 million people and more than 2000 species of vascular plants,
fishes, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals.
4.3 Possible anthropogenic origins
5 Economic exploitation
8 See also
11 Further reading
12 External links
Approximate vegetation map of Brazil. The
Caatinga is brown.
Caatinga covers the interior portion of northeastern
the Atlantic seaboard (save for a fringe of Atlantic Forest). It is
located between 3°S 45°W and 17°S 35°W, extending across eight
states of Brazil: Piauí, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba,
Pernambuco, Alagoas, Sergipe, Bahia, and parts of Minas Gerais, as
well the southeasternmost point of
Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro in Cabo Frio. The
Caatinga includes several enclaves of humid tropical forest, known as
Caatinga enclaves moist forests.
Chapada Diamantina in
Bahia state, in Brazil
Caatinga is bounded by the
Maranhão Babaçu forests to the
Atlantic dry forests
Atlantic dry forests and the
Cerrado savannas to the
west and southwest, the humid
Atlantic forests along the Atlantic
coast to the east, and by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and
Caatinga comprises 850,000 km², about 10% of the surface
area of Brazil. By comparison, it is over nine times the surface area
of Portugal, whence came its early European settlers, and 20% larger
than the U.S. state of Texas.
Caatinga has only two distinguishable seasons. These are the
winter, when it is hot and dry, and the summer when it is very hot and
rainy. During the dry winter periods there is no foliage or
undergrowth. The vegetation is very dry and the roots begin to
protrude through the surface of the stony soil. They do this in order
to absorb water before it is evaporated. All leaves fall off the trees
to reduce transpiration, thus lessening the amount of water that is
lost in the dry season. During the peak periods of drought the
Caatinga's soil can reach temperatures of up to 60 °C. With all
the foliage and undergrowth dead during the drought periods and all
the trees having no leaves the
Caatinga has a yellow-grey, desert-like
Caatinga is very dry place in Brazil, with frequent droughts. The
drought usually ends in December or January, when the rainy season
starts. Immediately after the first rains, the grey, desert-like
landscape starts to transform and becomes completely green within a
few days. Small plants start growing in the now moist soil and trees
grow back their leaves. At this time, the rivers that were mostly dry
during the past 6 or 7 months, start to fill up and the streams begin
to flow again.
Caatinga is poorly represented in the Brazilian Conservation Area
network, with only 1% in Integral Protection Conservation Areas and 6%
in Sustainable Use Conservation Areas.
Caatinga harbors a unique biota, with thousands of endemic species.
Caatinga contains over 1,000 vascular plant species in addition to 187
bees, 240 fish species, 167 reptiles and amphibians, 516 birds, and
148 mammal species, with endemism levels varying from 9 percent in
birds to 57 percent in fishes.
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The caatinga does not correspond to a single type of vegetation, but
is a broad mosaic of types. Towards the coast, the caatinga is
replaced by remnants of the
Atlantic Forest (Mata Atlântica); inland,
the caatinga merges with no clear limits into the cerrado (see CPD
Site SA21). Interspersed with the caatinga are low mountains with
uplands that are much more humid, containing elements ("brejos de
altitude") of the Atlantic and Amazonian forests, with trees 30–35 m
General characteristics of the caatinga elements include total loss of
leaves during the dry season, small and firm (xeric) leaves, intense
branching of the trees from the base (giving them a shrubby
appearance) and the presence of succulent and crassulaceous species
(Romariz 1974). Most authors recognize two main types of caatinga: dry
caatinga ("sertão") located in the interior and more humid caatinga
("agreste") toward the coast. Eiten (1983) divided the caatinga into
the following eight categories:
Caatinga forest, or low (8–10 m) xerophytic deciduous tropical
broadleaved forest, with closed canopies, and the trees having a
ground coverage over 60%. This robust formation occurs where there is
sufficient rain and the soil is deep enough.
2. Arborescent caatinga, with the shrubby subcanopy not closed, and
tree coverage 10-60%.
3. Arborescent-shrubby closed caatinga, or low xerophytic deciduous
open tropical broadleaved forest with closed scrub, where the tree
coverage is 10-60%. This is the most common form of undisturbed
caatinga, sometimes called "carrasco".
4. Arborescent-shrubby open caatinga, with the total ground coverage
of trees, shrubs, cacti, bromeliads, etc. between 10-60%.
5. Shrubby closed caatinga, or xerophytic deciduous or semi-deciduous
closed tropical broadleaved scrub; the thoroughly deciduous scrub is
6. Shrubby open caatinga, or xerophytic open tropical scrub, which can
be composed of deciduous broadleaved species, cacti and bromeliads, or
mixtures of the same. Coverage varies between 10-60%. Common
throughout the caatinga on very shallow soil or rocky outcrops.
Caatinga savanna or xerophytic short-graminose tropical savanna
with deciduous broadleaved scrub; this formation is usually called
8. Rocky caatinga savanna or xerophytic sparse tropical scrub, in
which both scrub and graminose elements have ground coverage of less
than 10%. This formation occurs on pavements and outcrops of massive
rock, with the plants interspersed in cracks and hollows.
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Caatinga is home to nearly 50 endemic species of birds, including
Lear's macaw (Anodorhynchus leari),
Spix's macaw (Cyanopsitta
spixii),[disputed – discuss] moustached woodcreeper (Xiphocolaptes
Caatinga antwren, Sao Francisco
black tyrant and
Caatinga cacholote.[Note 1]
Endemic mammal species include:
eleven rodents -
Caatinga vesper mouse, Wiedomys pyrrhorhinos,
Trinomys albispinus minor, Trinomys albispinus
sertonius, Thylamys karimii,
Dasyprocta sp. n.,
Oryzomys sp. n.,
Oxymycterus sp. n.,
Rhipidomys sp. n. ssp. 1, and
Rhipidomys sp. n.
one primate - Callicebus barbarabrownae
two bats -
Xeronycteris vieirai and
Chiroderma sp. n
Possible anthropogenic origins
Based on radiocarbon dating of potsherds, proponents of historical
ecology such as
William Denevan and William Balee have suggested that
large sections of the
Caatinga region may be of anthropogenic origin.
Over 1000 years ago, native peoples may have unintentionally created
the environment of the modern-day
Caatinga through constant
slash-and-burn agriculture, thereby stymying plant succession and
preventing major rainforests from growing within the region.
People use many plant species from the
Caatinga region. Palms are very
important to the economy in northeast Brazil. People from this area
are greatly dependent on extraction from babassu, carnaúba, tucúm
and macaúba, from which lauric and oleic oils are made from. Many
trees are also used for lumber in this area, including these species:
Anadenanthera macrocarpa, Ziziphus joazeiro, Amburana cearensis,
Astronium fraxinifolium, Astronium urundeuva, Handroanthus
impetiginosus, Tabebuia caraiba, and Schinopsis brasiliensis, Cedrela
odorata, Dalbergia variabilis,
Didymopanax morototoni and
Pithecellobium polycephalum. Some plants are also used for medical
Meliponiculture is also a well-developed and traditional activity in
the region. One of the most productive species Melipona subnitida,
known locally as jandaíra, produces up to 6 liters a year, resulting
in economic profit for the population.
Around 26 million people live in the
Caatinga region, and are regarded
as belonging to the poorest inhabitants of Brazil. A very large
part of the population depends on agricultural or forest industries
for over half of their income. There are few drinkable water sources,
and harvesting is difficult because of the irregular rainfall.
Along São Francisco River, the
Caatinga has very fertile soil.
Inhabitants plant fruits in the fertile soil to process and eat, sell
and export. The irrigated farms along the
São Francisco River
São Francisco River in the
Juazeiro are currently exporting
grapes, papayas and melons. Despite the amount of fertility, many
farmers earn less than $1 a day.
Some regions are being irrigated, most notably the São Francisco
River. While this is very good news for some farmers, it has also had
serious consequences for people who have always depended on the
natural flow of the river. Big dams have brought an end to the high
tides in the rainy season, which used to spread fertile mud over the
fields creating a rich ground that could be used for agriculture
during the dry season. Salinization of the soil is becoming a threat
since large areas of the land are irrigated with saline water, thus
sterilizing the soil.
Having and using all these resources has some negatives. Intensive
agriculture, along with excessive grazing by cattle and goats, is
affecting the population structure of some important plant and animal
species. Deforesting for industrial uses like fuel and charcoal
destroys the vegetation. The combination of drought and misuse of the
land is becoming a major threat. Harvesting of the caraiba woodland
for lumber has reduced its size. This reduction may have contributed
to the endangerment of the Spix's Macaw.
Caatinga enclaves moist forests
List of plants of
Caatinga vegetation of Brazil
^ There is no evidence, however, that the bird formerly known as
Caatinga woodpecker occurs in Caatinga.
^ Salcedo, I.H., Menezes, R.S.C. (2009): Agroecosystem functioning and
management in semi-arid Northeastern Brazil, in: Tiessen, H., Stewart,
J.W.B. (eds.): Applying Ecological Knowledge to Landuse Decisions.
Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research - IICA-IAI-Scope,
Paris, pp. 73–81.
^ Santos, J.C.; Leal, I.R.; Almeida-Cortez, J.S.; Fernandes, G.W.;
Tabarelli, M. (2011). "Caatinga: the scientific negligence experienced
by a dry tropical forest". Tropical Conservation Science. 4 (3):
^ Balée, William (2013-08-20). Cultural Forests of the Amazon: A
Historical Ecology of People and Their Landscapes. University of
Alabama Press. p. 43. ISBN 9780817317867.
^ Cortopassi-Laurino, Marilda; Imperatriz-Fonseca, Vera Lucia; Roubik,
David Ward; Dollin, Anne; Heard, Tim; Aguilar, Ingrid; Venturieri,
Giorgio C.; Eardley, Connal; Nogueira-Neto, Paulo (22 June 2006).
"Global meliponiculture: challenges and opportunities". Apidologie. 37
(2): 275–292. doi:10.1051/apido:2006027.
^ Bonnatti, Vanessa; Luz Paulino Simões, Zilá; Franco, Fernando
Faria; Tiago, Mauricio (3 January 2014). "Evidence of at least two
evolutionary lineages in
Melipona subnitida (Apidae, Meliponini)
suggested by mtDNA variability and geometric morphometrics of
forewings". Naturwissenschaften. doi:10.1007/s00114-013-1123-5.
Missing or empty url= (help)
^ Untied, B. (2005): Bewässerungslandwirtschaft als Strategie zur
kleinbäuerlichen Existenzsicherung in Nordost-Brasilien? -
Handlungsspielräume von Kleinbauern am Mittellauf des São Francisco.
Philipps-Universität Marburg, Marburg.
Llosa, Mario Vargas - The War of the End of the World
Spix & Martius (1817-1820)
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Caatinga.
"Caatinga". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund.
Caatinga: Brazilian national heritage threatened
Associação Mãe-da-lua The Avifauna of northeastern Brazil
Coordinates: 6°00′00″S 40°00′00″W / 6.0000°S