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Savannas and three kinds of forest

Vegetation of the state of São Paulo now follows the national terminology

As the the look at what was left of the green in São Paulo became more refined, the old categories of vegetation became too generic to deal with increasingly plain nuances. The forest in the environs of Teodoro Sampaio, on the plains of the far west of the state, with one rainy period and another dry one, well defined (the trees lose their leaves in the dry season), for example, were classified ten years ago as forest the same term employed to designate the forests of Campos do Jordão, in the east of the state, with trees like the araucarias that grow at an altitude of 1,500 meters, under continuous rain throughout the year and that never lose their leaves because of drought.

To deal with the differences of behavior, soil, climate and topography, the researchers updated the categories of vegetation of the state of São Paulo, adopting the terminology of the Radam-Brasil project, a gigantic mapping of the national territory carried out in the 70s using aircraft, helicopters and teams on the ground. The southeastern region had remained outside the proposed standard, as the priority was to get to know and map the hinterland of the Amazon (Radam means Radar of Amazonia) and of the Northeast.

Converted to the Radam terminology, the forests and secondary growth stretches of the natural forest being regenerated have been unfolded into three kinds of vegetation: Dense Ombrophilous Forest, close to the coast; Mixed Ombrophilous Forest, in high areas like Campos de Jordão; and Seasonal Semideciduous Forest, with well defined rainy and dry seasons, as in Teodoro Sampaio (ombrophilous means “rain-loving”, in Greek). The term Cerrado, of regional use, was replaced by Savanna, adopted internationally to designate vegetation formed by twisted trees that grow in poor and acid soils. “Cerrado, in English, corresponded to a thicker vegetation, like the one we call cerradão”, Baitello notes. “Now we have a more universal standard, almost the scientific name of each kind of vegetation.”Now, there are five basic categories of vegetation in São Paulo:

Dense Ombrophilous Forest
These are stretches of the Atlantic Rain Forest to be found along the coast, in regions with a hot temperature (averages of 25° Celsius) and heavy rainfall, well distributed over the year, with practically no dry season. It includes, as an associated ecosystem, the coastal strips called restinga, which occur alongside the beaches and coastal plains.

Mixed Ombrophilous Forest
Located in regions at altitudes of between 1,200 and 1,800 meters, rainfall well distributed over the year, and a short dry period (less than 60 days). Also called araucaria or pine forests.

Seasonal Semideciduous Forest
Characterized by two climatic seasons, one rainy and the other dry, which conditions the behavior of the plants: amongst the trees, between 20% and 50% lose their leaves during the dry period (two to three months). It covers the stretches of Atlantic Rain Forest found in the hinterland of the state of São Paulo.

Savanna (Cerrado)
Vegetation adapted to regions that are normally flat, with dry climates (one to four months without rain) and poor and acid soils. Seen in four distinct forms: typical savanna (cerrado stricto sensu), with bushes and trees of up to 7 meters in height, twisted trunks and branches covered by thick bark; forest savanna (cerradão), with trees of up to 12 meters in height, thicker and denser than typical savanna; wooded savanna (field cerrado), with a predominance of herbaceous vegetation, in particular graminaceae, and small trees and bushes widely spaced out from each other; and gramineous-ligneous (field), made up of a herbaceous vegetation, without trees.

Mud flats (Mangue)
Vegetation found in areas where the waters from the sea and from rivers are mixed, adapted to the high salinity and to the muddy soil.

The stretches in which these basic types of vegetation are mixed together appear on the map as contacts, also called areas of ecological tension. There are nine contacts between Savanna and Mixed Ombrophilous Forest, or between Savanna and Seasonal Semideciduous Forest, for example, divided, in turn, into two groups. When the species are really intertwined, the so-called ecotones are formed, in which the original characteristics of each kind of vegetation are lost. There are also the so-called enclaves, in which one type of vegetation Savanna, shall we say forms islands surrounded by another type a Seasonal Semideciduous Forest, for example.What to do with the old names like Atlantic Rain Forest or Cerrado? Of course, they may still be used, although now they have clearly become generic.

The Projects
1. Physionomic-Ecological Units Associated with the Remnants of the Natural Plant Cover of the State of São Paulo (nº 99/12329-8); Modality
A Biota-FAPESP Project; Coordinator João Batista Baitello – Forestry Institute; Investment R$ 127,875.00
2. Characterization and Quantification of Forest Raw Material (Pinus and Eucalyptus) in the State of São Paulo (nº 00/02043-9); Modality Public Policies; Coordinator Francisco José do Nascimento Kronka – Forestry Institute; Investment R$ 218,476.00