FAPESP Countdown: “The many faces of the sertão”

The Brazil Institute is counting down to this year’s FAPESP Week (November 17-21), organized in collaboration with the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), UC Berkeley, and UC Davis. The symposium aims at strengthening the links between scientists from Brazil and the U.S. with the objective of promoting research partnerships. Find out more about the 2014 FAPESP Week in California here

Rodrigo de Oliveiro Andrade – Pesquisa FAPESP, 2014 Print Edition, Published in July 2013


During an 1818 Austrian expedition to Brazil—a scientific investigation that brought over researchers and artists to study and depict species and landscapes characteristic of Brazilian biodiversity—two naturalists, Carl Friedrich von Martius and Johann Baptiste von Spix, were struck by the diversity of vegetation in a forest that was theoretically rare for the region around the banks of the São Francisco River in what is now the municipality of Januária, in Minas Gerais State. Their fascination was largely justified by the fact that the vegetation was in an area that was part of the Caatinga, an ecosystem identified by a predominantly semi-arid climate and scarce, highly variable water availability. The two German naturalists probably thought, like many others, that the Caatinga is a homogeneous environment, but that is not the case.

“The region has a wide variety of environmental conditions that are essential to the emergence and sustenance of a number of species well adapted to the regional climate,” said biologist Bráulio Almeida Santos of the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB), in a lecture he presented at the fifth BIOTA-FAPESP Education Conference Cycle, on June 20, 3013 in São Paulo.

The Caatinga, he explained, presently occupies 11% of Brazilian territory, an area approximately 845,000 square kilometers (km2) in size. It is divided into eight ecoregions—each having very distinct landscapes, soil types and vegetation—that can receive rainfall of less than 1,000 millimeters in a year’s time. “In some areas, a dry spell can last as long as 11 months,” he said. The region is currently experiencing its worst drought in 30 years, affecting the lives of 27 million people. In the state of Bahia alone, over 214 municipalities have declared a state of emergency this year.

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Article and photo courtesy of Revista Pesquisa FAPESP.

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