The conservation value of secondary savannas in the Brazilian Cerrado

by ZSL on

How important are areas of regenerated Cerrado, or the Brazilian savanna, for biodiversity? Guilherme Ferreira, a PhD student in the Institute of Zoology, explores.  

Lowland tapir
The Lowland tapir was one of the mammal species recorded at Veredas do Peruaçu State Park during the camera trap survey

As an ecologist I’m familiar with the term ‘secondary forest’, but ‘secondary savanna’ is a much more obscure concept.  So, how should we name an area of Cerrado – the Brazilian savanna – that has regenerated after clearcut?  And more importantly, what’s the biodiversity relevance of these areas of regenerated Cerrado? 

The answer to the first question, according to a recent review, is that the secondary concept (as well as the old growth one) should be equally applied to forests, savannas and grasslands. Answering the second question is much trickier, though. 

Vegetation at Veredas do Peruaçu State Park
Vegetation at Veredas do Peruaçu State Park

The regeneration and succession in Cerrado vegetation has been studied at some locations; in general it follows a path from open to dense vegetation, with an increase in tree and shrub density and a decrease in the herbaceous cover. However, while we have an idea of the differences in vegetation composition and structure between old growth and secondary savanna vegetation in the Cerrado, there is virtually no study comparing the fauna that lives in these two different environments. 

To start filling this gap in knowledge we conducted a camera trap survey in a Cerrado protected area harbouring large areas of secondary as well as old growth savanna. Our study area is a perfect site to investigate the effects of secondary savanna on biodiversity because more than 1/3 of its 310 km2 have naturally regenerated after clearcut, while large portions of the state park have been kept in its natural state with little human interference.   

Satellite images from Veredas do Peruaçu State Park
Satellite images showing the camera trap sites and the differences in vegetation between 1993 and 2011 at Veredas do Peruaçu State Park, south eastern Brazil

The results of this survey have been published in the September issue of Biotropica and they show that secondary savannas may play an important role for large mammal conservation in the Brazilian Cerrado. Despite the large areas of secondary vegetation, Veredas do Peruaçu State Park sustains a rich and diverse large mammal fauna. Our camera traps recorded more than 800 short videos of 18 large mammal species, some of them globally threatened and one even considered regionally extinct - the bush dog (Speothos venaticus). More importantly, we found no evidence that secondary savannas have negative impacts on large mammals. The probability that one of our camera traps would be triggered by a large mammal species did not depend on whether the vegetation was secondary or mature.

A very important thing to note, though, is that not all secondary savannas will sustain high levels of biodiversity. As with other secondary habitats, to achieve a high conservation value the area should retain key ecological attributes, such as: low disturbance or protection during regeneration, presence of old growth vegetation in the surroundings, relatively short duration of the impact, and occurrence of seed dispersal fauna. If at least some of these things take place, then large mammals can recolonize and use secondary vegetation that regenerated from clearcut in the Cerrado.

Select a blog

Artefact of the month

Every month one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the month.

Asia Conservation Programme

Get the latest on ZSL's conservation work in Asia.

B.U.G.S Blog

Find out more about life in our B.U.G.S exhibit

Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation

A new Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.

ZSL Shop

See the latest ranges, updates and special offers from our exciting new online shop.

Wild About Magazine

Excerpts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine.

ZSL London Zoo

A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo. Bringing you amazing animal facts and exclusive access to the world's scientific oldest zoo.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Discover more about the UK's biggest zoo with our fun blog posts!

Discovery and Learning in the Field

Join the ZSL Discovery and Learning team as they venture out of the zoo and in to the wild.


Catch up on our latest Conservation Blogs


ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's elephant keepers give an insight into the daily goings on in the elephant barn.

Tiger conservation

Read about conservation of tigers in Asia.

Videographer Blog

One man is boldly going where no other ZSL videographer has gone before - the land of Mountain Chicken Frogs.

Wild Science

From the field, to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.

Wildlife Wood Project Cameroon

The Wildlife Wood Project has been working in Cameroon since 2007 to encourage better wildlife management in logging concessions.

Penguin expedition blog

Updates from penguin conservation expeditions to Antarctica

Amur Leopard

Amur leopard conservation blog

Baby Giraffe Diaries

Meet ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's latest (and leggiest) arrival, a baby giraffe!

Biodiversity and Palm Oil

Follow the ZSL Biodiversity and Palm Oil team, based in Bogor, Indonesia.

Chagos Expedition

The Chagos marine reserve, designated in 2010 and currently the world’s largest no take marine reserve, is a sought-after spot for marine research.


Science blogs

Tsaobis Baboon Blog

Follow ZSL conservationists studying desert baboons in Namibia.