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Caatinga Biosphere Reserve, 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.

Designation date: 2001


Regional network: IberoMAB

Ecosystem-based network: 



    Surface : 19,899,000 ha

    • Core area(s): 1,000,342 ha
    • Buffer zone(s): 13,545,000 ha
    • Transition zone(s): 5,353,658 ha

    Location: 03°00' to 16°00'S; 35°30' to 44°00'W

    Administrative Authorities

    Alexandrina Sobreira de Moura
    President of RBCAAT National Council

    Tel.: +55 81 99967-5840

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    Ecological Characteristics

    The Caatinga Biosphere Reserve is characterized by Caatinga vegetation, as well as deciduous forest in the drought period, the typical vegetation of the interior of northeastern Brazil.

    Through the buffer and transition areas, the Caatinga Biosphere Reserve sets up ecological corridors among the diverse core areas, and it is also linked to the contiguous Mata Atlántica Biosphere Reserveand Cerrado Biosphere Reserve.

    Caatinga stands for the kind of vegetation that covers the greatest semiarid region in Northeast Brazil. The Caatinga Biosphere Reserve has been divided into 6 units. Unit I represents a Caatinga high forest characterized by Tabebuia-Aspidosperma-Astronium-Cavanillesia association. Unit II varies from Caatinga middle or lower forest and open arboreal Caatinga. It presents four associations: a) Astronium-Schinopsis-Caesalpinia, b) Caesalpinia-Spondias-Bursera-Aspidosperma, c) Mimosa-Syagrus-Spondias-Cereus, and d) Cnidosculus-Bursera-Caesalpinia. Unit III represents a lower Caatinga forest and is characterized by Pilosocereus-Poepiggia-Dalbergia-Piptadenia association. Unit IV occurs in low Caatinga and includes four associations: a) Caesalpinia-Aspidosperma-Jatropha, b) Caesalpinia-Aspidosperma, c) Mimosa-Caesalpinia-Aristida, and d) Aspidosperma-Pelosocereus. Unit V represents a type of bushy Caatinga and is characterized by Calliandra-Pilosocereus association. Unit VI represents a Caatinga gallery forest and is characterized by Copernicia-Geoffroea-Licania association. Land uses include dry-farming (sequiro), agroecosystems, afforestation areas; pasture land.


    Socio-Economic Characteristics

    Some 210,000 people (2002) live in the Biosphere Reserve, mainly living from dry farming and cattle raising. There is also a great dependency on forestry products and several Caatinga plants are considered as having medicinal properties. Strategies aiming at the sustainable use of the Caatinga are part of the research agenda of the government and non-governmental organisations in the region.

    The region features some of the lowest Human Development Index (HDI) municipalities in Brazil. Life expectancy in the region in 2008 was 60 years, while the national average was 67.8 years. Another worrying index is the infant mortality rate. For every 1,000 children born alive, 49.8 died before one year of age, in contrast to the national average of 28 children. The region's socioeconomic situation has led to high levels of rural exodus in recent decades.


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    Last updated: May 2020