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Pantanal Conservation Area
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Pantanal, south-central South America 5170.jpg
Typical Pantanal scenery
Location Brazil
Criteria Natural: (vii), (ix), (x)
Reference 999
Inscription2000 (24th Session)
Area187,818 km2 (72,517 sq mi)
Coordinates 17°43′S57°23′W / 17.717°S 57.383°W / -17.717; -57.383 Coordinates: 17°43′S57°23′W / 17.717°S 57.383°W / -17.717; -57.383
Official namePantanal Matogrossense
Designated24 May 1993
Reference no.602 [1]
Official nameEl Pantanal Boliviano
Designated17 September 2001
Reference no.1089 [2]
Relief Map of Brazil.jpg
Red pog.svg
Location of Pantanal in Brazil
South America laea relief location map.jpg
Red pog.svg
Pantanal (South America)

The Pantanal (Portuguese pronunciation:  [pɐ̃taˈnaw] ) is a natural region encompassing the world's largest tropical wetland area. It is located mostly within the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, but it extends into Mato Grosso and portions of Bolivia and Paraguay. It sprawls over an area estimated at between 140,000 and 195,000 square kilometres (54,000 and 75,000 sq mi). Various subregional ecosystems exist, each with distinct hydrological, geological and ecological characteristics; up to 12 of them have been defined (RADAMBRASIL 1982). [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

Natural region region distinguished by its common natural features of geography, geology, and climate

A natural region is a basic geographic unit. Usually it is a region which is distinguished by its common natural features of geography, geology, and climate.

Wetland A land area that is permanently or seasonally saturated with water

A wetland is a distinct ecosystem that is flooded by water, either permanently or seasonally, where oxygen-free processes prevail. The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other land forms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation of aquatic plants, adapted to the unique hydric soil. Wetlands play a number of functions, including water purification, water storage, processing of carbon and other nutrients, stabilization of shorelines, and support of plants and animals. Wetlands are also considered the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems, serving as home to a wide range of plant and animal life. Whether any individual wetland performs these functions, and the degree to which it performs them, depends on characteristics of that wetland and the lands and waters near it. Methods for rapidly assessing these functions, wetland ecological health, and general wetland condition have been developed in many regions and have contributed to wetland conservation partly by raising public awareness of the functions and the ecosystem services some wetlands provide.

Brazil Federal republic in South America

Brazil, officially the Federative Republic of Brazil, is the largest country in both South America and Latin America. At 8.5 million square kilometers and with over 208 million people, Brazil is the world's fifth-largest country by area and the fifth most populous. Its capital is Brasília, and its most populated city is São Paulo. The federation is composed of the union of the 26 states, the Federal District, and the 5,570 municipalities. It is the largest country to have Portuguese as an official language and the only one in the Americas; it is also one of the most multicultural and ethnically diverse nations, due to over a century of mass immigration from around the world.


Roughly 80% of the Pantanal floodplains are submerged during the rainy seasons, nurturing a biologically diverse collection of aquatic plants and helping to support a dense array of animal species.

Aquatic plant plant that has adapted to living in an aquatic environment

Aquatic plants are plants that have adapted to living in aquatic environments. They are also referred to as hydrophytes or macrophytes. A macrophyte is an aquatic plant that grows in or near water and is either emergent, submergent, or floating. In lakes and rivers macrophytes provide cover for fish and substrate for aquatic invertebrates, produce oxygen, and act as food for some fish and wildlife. Macrophytes are primary producers and are the basis of food for many different organisms. Macrophytes have a strong effect on soil chemistry and light levels. Aquatic plants are a way to clean the water going into other bodies of water. The plants slow down the flow of water and capture pollutants and other sediments, the plants will eventually absorb the pollutants and the excess sediment will settle down to the bottom of the body of water. Macrophytes are different from algae because macrophytes are big enough to see with a naked eye, but microscopic algae cannot be seen with the naked eye. Algae does not have a root system or plant structure, and they are non-vascular, therefore algae is not considered a macrpohyte. Seaweeds are not vascular plants; rather they are multicellular marine algae, and therefore are not typically included among aquatic plants. Aquatic plants require special adaptations for living submerged in water, or at the water's surface. The most common adaptation is aerenchyma, but floating leaves and finely dissected leaves are also common. Aquatic plants can only grow in water or in soil that is permanently saturated with water. They are therefore a common component of wetlands.

The name "Pantanal" comes from the Portuguese word pântano, meaning wetland, bog, swamp, quagmire or marsh. By comparison, the Brazilian highlands are locally referred to as the planalto, plateau or, literally, high plain.

Geology, geography and ecology

The extent of the Pantanal in Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay Pantanal 55.76W 15.40S.jpg
The extent of the Pantanal in Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay

The Pantanal is about 140,000-160,000, [8] [9] gently-sloped basin that receives runoff from the upland areas (the Planalto highlands) and slowly releases the water through the Paraguay River and tributaries. The formation is a result of the large, concave pre-Andean depression of the earth's crust, related to the Andean orogeny of the Tertiary. It constitutes an enormous internal river delta, in which several rivers flowing from the surrounding plateau merge, depositing their sediments and erosion residues, which have been filling, throughout the years, the large depression area of the Pantanal. This area is also one of the distinct physiographic provinces of the larger Parana-Paraguay Plain area, which encompasses a total of 1.5 million sq.m. [10]

The Mato Grosso Plateau is a plateau in central Brazil occupying most of the state of Mato Grosso. It contains mostly savanna and woodland. It is an ancient erosional plateau that extends from the border of Goiás state westward to the Parecis plateau, which lies near the Bolivian border. In the south it gives way to floodplains called the Pantanal.

Paraguay River river

The Paraguay River is a major river in south-central South America, running through Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. It flows about 2,695 kilometres (1,675 mi) from its headwaters in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso to its confluence with the Paraná River north of Corrientes and Resistencia.

Orogeny The formation of mountain ranges

An orogeny is an event that leads to both structural deformation and compositional differentiation of the Earth's lithosphere at convergent plate margins. An orogen or orogenic belt develops when a continental plate crumples and is pushed upwards to form one or more mountain ranges; this involves a series of geological processes collectively called orogenesis.

The Pantanal is bounded by the Chiquitano dry forests to the west and northwest, by the Arid Chaco dry forests to the southwest, and the Humid Chaco to the south. The Cerrado savannas lie to the north, east and southeast. The Pantanal is a semi-arid region with an average annual temperate of 21.5 °C and rainfall at 1,320 mm a year. [9] Throughout the year, temperature varies about 6.0 °C with the warmest month being November (with an average temperature of 26 °C) and the coldest month being June (with an average temperature of 20 °C). Its wettest month is January (with an average of 340 mm) and its driest is June (with an average of 3 mm). [9]

Chiquitano dry forests Ecoregion in Bolivia and Brazil

The Chiquitano dry forests is a tropical dry broadleaf forest ecoregion in Bolivia and Brazil.

Cerrado tropical savanna ecoregion of Brazil

The Cerrado is a vast tropical savanna ecoregion of Brazil, particularly in the states of Goiás, Mato Grosso do Sul, Mato Grosso, Tocantins and Minas Gerais. The Cerrado biome core areas are the plateaus in the center of Brazil. The main habitat types of the Cerrado include: forest savanna, wooded savanna, park savanna and gramineous-woody savanna. Savanna wetlands and gallery forests are also included. The second largest of Brazil's major habitat types, after the Amazonian rainforest, the Cerrado accounts for a full 21 percent of the country's land area.


Landscape Pantanal, Mato Grosso, Brasil.jpg

Floodplain ecosystems such as the Pantanal are defined by their seasonal inundation and desiccation. [11] They shift between phases of standing water and phases of dry soil, when the water table can be well below the root region. [11] Soils range from high levels of sand in higher areas to higher amounts of clay and silt in riverine areas.

Inundation is both the act of intentionally flooding land that would otherwise remain dry, for military, agricultural, or river-management purposes, and the result of such an act.

Desiccation state of extreme dryness, or the process of extreme drying

Desiccation is the state of extreme dryness, or the process of extreme drying. A desiccant is a hygroscopic substance that induces or sustains such a state in its local vicinity in a moderately sealed container.

Sand A granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles, from 0.063 to 2 mm diameter

Sand is a granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles. It is defined by size, being finer than gravel and coarser than silt. Sand can also refer to a textural class of soil or soil type; i.e., a soil containing more than 85 percent sand-sized particles by mass.

Elevation of the Pantanal ranges from 80 to 150 m (260 to 490 ft) above sea level. [11] Annual rainfall over the flood basin is between 1,000 and 1,500 mm (39 and 59 in), with most rainfall occurring between November and March. [11] Annual average precipitation ranged from 920 to 1,540 mm in the years 1968-2000. [9] In the Paraguay River portion of the Pantanal, water levels rise between two meters to five meters seasonally; water fluctuations in other parts of the Pantanal are less than this. [11] Flood waters tend to flow slowly (2 to 10 cm (0.79 to 3.94 in) per second [11] ) due to the low gradients and high resistance offered by the dense vegetation.

When rising river waters first contact previously dry soil, the waters become oxygen-depleted, rendering the water environs anoxic. [11] Many natural fish kills can occur if there are no oxygenated water refuges available (the reason for this remains speculative: it may be due to the growth of toxin-producing bacteria in the deoxygenated water rather than as a direct result of lack of oxygen. [11]


The vegetation of the Pantanal, often referred to as the "Pantanal complex", is a mixture of plant communities typical of a variety of surrounding biome regions: these include moist tropical Amazonian rainforest plants, semiarid woodland plants typical of northeast Brazil, Brazilian cerrado savanna plants and plants of the Chaco savannas of Bolivia and Paraguay. [3] Forests usually occur at higher altitudes of the region, while grasslands cover the seasonally inundated areas. The key limiting factors for growth are inundation and, even more importantly, water-stress during the dry season. [3]

According to Embrapa, approximately 2000 different plants have been identified in the Pantanal biome and classified according to their potential, with some presenting significant medicinal promise. [12]


The Pantanal ecosystem is also thought to be home to 463 bird species, [13] 269 fish species, more than 236 mammalian species, [14] 141 reptile and amphibian species and over 9,000 subspecies of invertebrates.

The apple snail is a keystone species in Pantanal's ecosystem. When the wetlands are flooded once a year, the grass and other plants will eventually die and start to decay. During this process, decomposing microbes deplete the shallow water of all oxygen, suffocating larger decomposers. Unlike other decomposing animals, the apple snails have both gills and lungs, making it possible for them to thrive in anoxic waters where they recycle the nutrients. To get oxygen, they extend a long snorkel to the water surface, pumping air into their lungs. This ability allows them to consume all the dead plant matter and turn it into nutritious fertilizer available for the plants in the area. The snails themselves are also food for a variety of animals. [15] [16] [17]

Among the rarest animals to inhabit the wetland of the Pantanal are the marsh deer (Blastocerus dichotomus) and the giant river otter (Pteronura brasiliensis). Parts of the Pantanal are also home to the following endangered or threatened species: the hyacinth macaw (Anodorhyncus hyacinthinus) (a bird endangered due to smuggling), the crowned solitary eagle, the maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus), the bush dog (Speothos venaticus), the South American tapir (Tapirus terrestris) and the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla). Common species in the Pantanal include the capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) and the yacare caiman (Caiman yacare). According to 1996 data, there were 10 million caimans in the Pantanal, making it the highest concentration of crocodilians in the World. [18] The Pantanal is home to one of the largest and healthiest jaguar (Panthera onca) populations on Earth.

There are thirteen species of herons and egrets, six species of ibises and spoonbills, and five species of kingfishers that use the Pantanal as a breeding and feeding ground. There are nineteen species of parrots documented in the Pantanal, including five species of macaws. Some migratory birds include the American golden plover, Peregrine falcon, and the Bobolink. [19]

Most fish are detritivores, primarily ingesting fine particles from sediments and plant surfaces. [3] This is characteristic of fish living in South American flood-plains in general. Fish migration between river channels and flood-plain regions occurs seasonally. [3] These fish have many adaptations that allow them to survive in the oxygen-depleted flood-plain waters. [3]

In addition to the caiman, some of the reptiles that inhabit the Pantanal are the yellow anaconda (Eunectes notaeus), the gold tegu (Tupinambis teguixin), the red-footed tortoise (Geochelone carbonaria) and the green iguana (Iguana iguana).


The Pantanal region includes essential sanctuaries for migratory birds, critical nursery grounds for aquatic life, and refuges for such creatures as the yacare caiman, deer, and Pantanal jaguar. [20] It is important to note that most species are not under threat due to the low deforestation rates (less than 17%) of native vegetation now in the area due to new regulations. [21]

Some of the causes which threaten the Pantanal ecosystems are:

Protected areas

Hotel SESC Porto Cercado in the SESC Reserve Aerea.jpg
Hotel SESC Porto Cercado in the SESC Reserve

A portion of the Pantanal in Brazil has been protected as the Pantanal Matogrossense National Park. This 1,350 square kilometres (520 sq mi) park, established in September 1981, is located in the municipality of Poconé in the State of Mato Grosso, between the mouths of the Baía de São Marcos and the Gurupi Rivers. The park was designated a Ramsar Site of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on May 24, 1993.

The SESC Pantanal Private Natural Heritage Reserve (Reserva Particular do Patrimonio Natural SESC Pantanal) is a privately owned reserve in Brazil, established in 1998 and 878.7 km2 (339.3 sq mi) in size. It is located in the north-eastern portion, known as "Poconé" Pantanal, not far from the Pantanal National Park. It is a mix of permanent rivers, seasonal streams, permanent and seasonal floodplain freshwater lakes, shrub-dominated wetlands and seasonally flooded forests, all dedicated to nature preservation, and was designated a Ramsar Site of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Otuquis National Park and Integrated Management Natural Area is a national park of Bolivia in the Pantanal. The entrance to Otuquis National park is through the town of Puerto Suarez.

Main cities

In fiction

See also

Related Research Articles

Flooded grasslands and savannas Habitat type defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature

Flooded grasslands and savannas is a terrestrial habitat type of the WWF biogeographical system, consisting of large expanses or complexes of flooded grasslands. These areas support numerous plants and animals adapted to the unique hydrologic regimes and soil conditions. Large congregations of migratory and resident waterbirds may be found in these regions. However, the relative importance of these habitat types for these birds as well as more vagile taxa typically varies as the availability of water and productivity annually and seasonally shifts among complexes of smaller and larger wetlands throughout a region.

Mato Grosso do Sul State of Brazil

Mato Grosso do Sul is one of the Midwestern states of Brazil. Its total area of 357,125 square kilometers, or 137,891 square miles, is roughly the same size as Germany.

<i>Caiman</i> (genus) genus of reptiles

Caiman is a genus of caimans within the alligatorid subfamily Caimaninae. They inhabit Central and South America. They are relatively small sized crocodilians, with all species reaching lengths of only a few meters and weighing 6 to 40 kg on average.

Yacare caiman species of reptile

The yacare caiman, also known commonly as the jacare caiman, Paraguayan caiman, piranha caiman, red caiman, southern spectacled caiman,, jacaré in Portuguese and îakaré in Old Tupi, is a species of caiman, a crocodilian in the family Alligatoridae. The species is endemic to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay. Brown in color and covered with dark blotches, males grow to a total length of 2–3 metres (6.6–9.8 ft) and females to 1.4 metres (4.6 ft). Typical habitats of this caiman include lakes, rivers, and wetlands. Its diet primarily consists of aquatic animals, such as snails, and occasionally land vertebrates. Mating occurs in the rainy season and eggs hatch in March, with young fending for themselves as soon as they hatch. The yacare caiman was hunted heavily for its skin to use for leather in the 1980s, which caused its population to decrease significantly. However, trading restrictions placed since have caused its population to increase. Its population in the Pantanal is about 10 million, and it is listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List.

A Ramsar site is a wetland site designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Gran Chaco Natural region

The Gran Chaco or Dry Chaco is a sparsely populated, hot and semiarid lowland natural region of the Río de la Plata basin, divided among eastern Bolivia, western Paraguay, northern Argentina, and a portion of the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, where it is connected with the Pantanal region. This land is sometimes called the Chaco Plain.

Central-West Region, Brazil Region in Brazil

The Central-West or Center-West Region of Brazil is composed of the states of Goiás, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul; along with Distrito Federal, where Brazil's national capital, Brasília, is situated. This Region is right in the heart of Brazil, representing 18.86% of the national territory.

Corumbá Municipality in Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil

CorumbáPortuguese pronunciation: [koɾũˈba] is a municipality in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, 425 km northwest of Campo Grande, the state's capital. It has a population of approximately 111,000 inhabitants, and its economy is based mainly on agriculture, animal husbandry, mineral extraction, and tourism, being the gateway to the biggest wetlands of the world, the Pantanal.

Ilha Grande National Park national park of Brazil

The Ilha Grande National Park is located on the border between Paraná and Mato Grosso do Sul states in Brazil. The park was created in 1997 to protect the biological diversity of the upper Parana River area.

Río de la Plata Basin hydrographical area in South America

The Río de la Plata basin, more often called the River Plate basin in scholarly writings, sometimes called the Platine basin or Platine region, is the 3,170,000-square-kilometre (1,220,000 sq mi) hydrographical area in South America that drains to the Río de la Plata. It includes areas of southeastern Bolivia, southern and central Brazil, the entire country of Paraguay, most of Uruguay, and northern Argentina. Making up about one fourth of the continent's surface, it is the second largest drainage basin in South America and one of the largest in the world.

Plumbeous ibis species of bird

The plumbeous ibisTheristicus caerulescens, also formerly called the blue ibis, is a large distinctive ibis species endemic to parts of central South America.

Piracema is the name given to the period of the year when fish within the Paraguay River drainage basin―which includes the Pantanal region in the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul―reproduce.

Pantanal Matogrossense National Park

The Pantanal Matogrossense National Park is a national park in the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil.

Taiamã Ecological Station

Taiamã Ecological Station is an ecological station in the Mato Grosso state of Brazil.

<i>Pantanal</i> (TV series) television series

Pantanal is a Brazilian telenovela which originally aired from March 27, 1990 to December 10, 1990 at 9 P.M. on Rede Manchete. SBT re-aired the telenovela from June 9, 2008 to January 13, 2009. It was set on the Pantanal region.

Cuiabá River river in Brazil

The Cuiabá River is a Brazilian river in the western state of Mato Grosso that flows in the Río de la Plata Basin. It is a tributary of the São Lourenço River.

Río Pilcomayo National Park national park in Formosa Province, Argentina

The Río Pilcomayo National Park is a national park located in the northeastern part of the Argentine province of Formosa, on the border with Paraguay. Established on September 29, 1951 to protect the natural features, typical of the Humid Chaco ecoregion, the park is included in the Ramsar Convention's list of wetlands of international importance.

São Lourenço River (Mato Grosso) river in Brazil

The São Lourenço River is a tributary of the Paraguay River within the Pantanal, an alluvial plain that spans portions of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. The São Lourenço river basin lies in the Mato Grosso state of Brazil.


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