The Info List - Caatinga

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CAATINGA (Portuguese pronunciation: ) 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).

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.

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
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.


* 1 Geography * 2 Climate * 3 Conservation

* 4 Ecology

* 4.1 Vegetation * 4.2 Fauna * 4.3 Possible anthropogenic origins

* 5 Economic exploitation

* 6 Agriculture

* 6.1 Irrigation

* 7 Deforestation * 8 See also * 9 Notes * 10 References

* 11 Further reading

* 11.1 History

* 12 External links


Approximate vegetation map of Brazil. The Caatinga
is brown.

covers the interior portion of northeastern Brazil
bordering 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
Cabo Frio
. The Caatinga
includes several enclaves of humid tropical forest, known as the Caatinga enclaves moist forests . Chapada Diamantina
Chapada Diamantina
in Bahia
state, in Brazil

The Caatinga
is bounded by the Maranhão Babaçu forests to the northwest, the 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 northeast.

The 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.


The 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 look.

The 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.


The 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.


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
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 tall.

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:

1. 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 more common.

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.

7. CAATINGA SAVANNA or xerophytic short-graminose tropical savanna with deciduous broadleaved scrub; this formation is usually called "seridó".

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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The Caatinga
is home to nearly 50 endemic species of birds, including Lear\'s macaw (Anodorhynchus leari), Spix\'s macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii), moustached woodcreeper (Xiphocolaptes falcirostris), Caatinga parakeet , Caatinga antwren , Sao Francisco black tyrant and Caatinga cacholote .

Endemic mammal species include:

* eleven rodents - Caatinga vesper mouse , Wiedomys pyrrhorhinos
Wiedomys pyrrhorhinos
, Trinomys yonenagae
Trinomys yonenagae
, 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. ssp. 2 * one primate - Callicebus barbarabrownae * two bats - Xeronycteris vieirai
Xeronycteris vieirai
and Chiroderma sp. n


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
Tabebuia caraiba
, and Schinopsis brasiliensis , Cedrela odorata
Cedrela odorata
, Dalbergia variabilis , Didymopanax morototoni and Pithecellobium polycephalum . Some plants are also used for medical purposes.

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 in the municipalities of