From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Caatinga Scrub (Caatinga)
Caatinga in Pernambuco, Brazil.
Country  Brazil
Part of South America
River São Francisco River
Area 850,000 km2 (328,187 sq mi)
Map of the Caatinga scrub as delineated by the IBAMA. Yellow line approximately encloses the Caatinga scrub distribution.Satellite image from NASA.
Caatinga during the rainy season.

Caatinga (Portuguese pronunciation: [kaaˈtĩɡɐ]) 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,[citation needed] nearly 10% of Brazil's territory. It is home to 15 million people and more than 2000 species of vascular plants, fishes, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals.[citation needed].


Approximate vegetation map of Brazil. The Caatinga is brown

Caatinga 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 in Cabo Frio. The Caatinga includes several enclaves of humid tropical forest, known as the Caatinga enclaves moist forests.

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's over nine times the surface area of Portugal from whence came its early 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 very hot and dry, and the summer when it is 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 a very dry place in Brazil. Droughts occur frequently in Caatinga. 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 green 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.

Indigenous inhabitants[edit]


Marcgrav (1638)

Spix & Martius (1817-1820)

colonization 1800's


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.


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.[1]


Authorities divide the Caatinga into microclimates in various ways depending on vegetation type.[Note 1]


The Caatinga is home to nearly 50 endemic species of birds, including Lear's macaw (Anodorhynchus leari), Spix's macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii),[disputed ] moustached woodcreeper (Xiphocolaptes falcirostris), Caatinga parakeet, Caatinga antwren, Sao Francisco black tyrant and Caatinga cacholote.[Note 2]

Endemic mammal species include: eleven rodents Caatinga vesper mouse, (Wiedomys pyrrhorhinos, 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; Oliveira [126]); one primate (Callicebus barbarabrownae; Oliveira [126]); two bats (Xeronycteris vieira and Chiroderma sp. n; Gregorin and Ditchfield [127], and Gregorin et al. [128], resp.).

Economic exploitation[edit]

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 purposes.[examples needed]

Around 15 million people live in the Caatinga region,[2] and are regarded[who?] 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 soils. 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 Petrolina and Juazeiro are currently exporting grapes, papayas and melons.


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. Also, salinization of the soil is becoming a threat since big parts 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 of the more 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 are 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.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Caatinga can be separated by vegetation types into eight different areas. The Caatinga forest has deciduous tropic broadleaved trees. The forest canopy covers about 60% of the ground. This type of vegetation is present in wetter areas with more rainfall. The Arborescent Caatinga is an area mainly of shrubs with some trees with less than 60% coverage. Aborescent-shrubby closed Caatinga is forest with closed shrub and tree coverage less than 60%. Aborescent-shrubby open Caatinga is similar but with more shrubs and cacti. In the Shrubby closed Caatinga scrub is more common. The Shrubby open Caatinga areas occur on shallow soils and rocky outcrops; this area contains trees, cacti and bromeliads. The Caatinga savanna is areas with some trees and some scrub. The Rocky Caatinga savanna contains less than 10% coverage of tropical scrub; these plants are protruding from cracks in rocks and pavements.[citation needed]
  2. ^ There is no evidence, however, that the bird formerly known as Caatinga woodpecker occurs in Caatinga.


  1. ^ 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): 276–286. 
  2. ^

For Further Reading[edit]

External links[edit]