DIVERSITY & ENDEMISM
The Cerrado is one of the richest of all tropical savanna regions and has high levels of endemism. The region is home to an estimated 10,000 plant species, of which about 4,400 are endemic. Herbaceous species, which include herbs rather than woody plants, are almost entirely endemic. Some of the most remarkable plants in the Cerrado include the conspicuous Mauritia flexuosa palms (known locally as buritis) that grow along the swampy headwaters of streams and rivers, and the spectacular trees of the genus Tabebuia (of the family Bignoniaceae, and referred to as ipê), which have brilliant pink, yellow, white and purple flowers.
The Cerrado has relatively high bird diversity, with more than 600 regularly occurring species, nearly 20 of which are endemic. The hotspot also contains two of BirdLife International’s Endemic Bird Areas. The endemics include the highly threatened blue-eyed ground dove (Columbina cyanopis, CR), the Minas Gerais tyrannulet (Phylloscartes roquettei, CR), known only from three areas in the São Francisco valley in north and central Minas Gerais, and the Brasília tapaculo (Scytalopus novacapitalis), a passerine that is found only in a few populations in gallery forest remnants near Brasilia, and a few locations in Minas Gerais, including the Serra da Canastra National Park. Some of the most distinctive birds in the hotspot include two very large species, the rhea (Rhea americana) and the red-legged seriema (Cariama cristata), neither of which are endemic.
There are nearly 200 species of mammal in the Cerrado, though only 14 are endemic. Four of the endemics are representatives of the three endemic genera in the hotspot: a rodent (Microakodontomys transitorius), known only from a single specimen collected in 1986 in the Brasília National Park; the Candango mouse (Juscelinomys candango), a semi-fossorial rodent first discovered in 1960 on the site of the capital, Brasília, then under construction, and which has never again been collected; and the cerrado mouse (Thalpomys cerradensis) and hairy-eared cerrado mouse (T. lasiotis). Until twenty thousand years ago, giant mammals, the so-called megafauna, were found in the Cerrado. Magnificent species, such as a giant armadillo, a giant sloth and a rhino-type animal lived together with primitive humans.
Many large mammals that range widely throughout South America have the Cerrado as one of their principal habitats. One of the best known of these species is the maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus), a giant, large-eared, long-legged fox-like animal that can grow to 80 centimeters in height and weigh 23 kilograms. The wolf has golden-red fur, with a black stripe running from the top of its head to the middle of its back. Two of the most unusual species are the giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus, EN) and the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla, VU), which as the largest anteater in the world can grow up to 1.9 meters in length from nose to base of tail, with a huge flag-like tail that can be up to a meter long.
Other large mammal species found in the Cerrado include the Brazilian tapir (Tapirus terrestris, VU) and the pampas deer (Ozotoceros bezoarcticus), and several cat species, such as the jaguar (Panthera onca), ocelot (Felis pardalis), and jaguarundi (Felis yagouaroundi).
More than 30 of the over 220 species of reptiles in the Cerrado are endemic, including six members of the snake genus Apostolepis. The genus Amphisbaena is well represented, with at least 26 species present. One of the best-known reptiles is the giant worm lizard (Amphisbaena alba), which can grow up to 70 centimeters in length, feeds on beetles, ants, and spiders, and has a clutch size ranging from 8-16 eggs, one of the largest known for the family. Half of the worm lizards are endemic to the region.
Nearly 200 species of amphibians have been recorded in the hotspot, more than 25 of which are endemic, including two species restricted to the Serra da Canastra National Park: the Canastra snouted tree frog (Scinax canastrensis) and the Zagaia tree frog (Hyla sazimai). Among the endemics are two highly threatened species: Hyla izecksohni (CR), known only from Rubião Júnior, Botucatu, in the state of São Paulo, and Odontophrynus moratoi (CR), known only from the type locality, Botucatu, also in São Paulo State and not collected since 1990.
Freshwater fish diversity is quite high in the Cerrado, with about 800 species, a quarter of which are endemic. The hotspot holds almost 250 genera of fish, nearly 20 of which are endemic.
While little is known about the insect diversity of the Cerrado, preliminary data suggests that a quarter of the 40,000 species of Neotropical butterflies and moths, nearly a third of the more than 440 species of Neotropical termites and a quarter of the nearly 550 Neotropical social wasps are found here. In addition, there are more than 800 bee species (out of about 7,000 in the entire Neotropics).