Research.—Since 2006, WCS-Brazil’s research in the Pantanal has focused on the impacts of cattle ranching and innovative best-management practices on targeted wildlife species, ecological communities, and ecosystems.
Initially, 3 partnerships with ranchers in the Upper Rio Negro region of the southern Pantanal were established. The properties encompassed approximately 13,000 ha of well-preserved to highly-disturbed native forests,wetlands, and savannas, as well as a recently (<10 yrs) deforested area,which had been converted to planted exotic pasture.
On a ranch that exclusively grazed cattle on native pasture, we set up an experimental pasture rotational system that has been the focus of a number of studies examining the sustainability of the technique in terms of native pasture conditions, cattle productivity, ranch profitability, and impacts on forest and wetland communities. These studies conducted in partnership with the Brazilian agricultural agency, Embrapa-Pantanal, represented the first experimental investigations of a native pasture rotational system in the Pantanal.
Results showed that there were significant environmental and economic benefits from using a rotational system in comparison to using traditional continuous,open-range grazing. The benefits included increased biomass and quality of native pasture forage, increased cattle weights, improved reproductive success of cattle, and decreased impacts on forest under story and wetland plant communities. The increases in pasture biomass also contribute to the Pantanal’s capacity to sequester carbon, the pasture plants taking up atmospheric CO2 emitted as a result of deforestation, wood-charcoal production, and burning.
These studies demonstrated that rotational grazing of native pasture is an eco-friendly and economically-viable alternative to the unsustainable ranching practices commonly used by Pantanal ranchers. Based on these results, WCS-Brazil launched a dissemination campaign (see below) to promote widespread use of rotational grazing on Pantanal and Cerrado highland ranches.
Additional studies and monitoring in the Pantanal by WCS-Brazil and collaborators, such as the Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso do Sul (UFMS), have shown that high levels of cattle activity have strong and largely negative impacts on communities of forest and wetland plants, soda lake macro invertebrates and wading birds, forest amphibians,bats, and fruit-eating mammals and birds. For all of these ecological communities, the studies have shown that high levels of cattle activity reduce environmental heterogeneity (variability), leading to alterations of species composition,increases in the abundance of disturbance-tolerant species, and overall losses of species diversity. The amazing variety of fruit-eating mammals and birds recorded with camera traps at fruiting tree sites in Pantanal forests are shown at the top of the web page in the photo gallery.
To help fill a significant knowledge gap concerning the potentially huge role played by
extensive Pantanal wetlands (>100,000 km2
)in regional carbon sequestration, WCS-Brazil is surveying wetland plant biomass (carbon stock). Preliminary results show that aquatic plant biomass varies enormously among the array of wetland types, ranging from 3 to 25 Mg-C/ha.
WCS-Brazil’s researching the Cerrado highlands bordering the Pantanal has focused on evaluating the effects of native habitat fragmentation and loss of riparian (stream-side) forests (both consequences of deforestation) on wildlife, forest fruit resources, stream invertebrate and fish communities, and unique palm (Mauritia flexuosa) dominated spring environments, the latter called “buritizais”.
Tying together all of the research efforts in the Pantanal and bordering Cerrado is the long-term (13yr) study of white-lipped peccaries (see white lipped peccaries page) by WCS-Brazil researcher, Alexine Keuroghlian. White-lipped peccaries are fruit-eating, wide-ranging species that form large herds (30 to70 individuals) and use a variety of habitat types, both in the Pantanal and Cerrado. Because they are vulnerable to impacts from land use change, hunting,and other human activities, they are excellent bioindicators of regional ecosystem health (see white lipped peccaries page).
Financial mechanisms promoting sustainable land use practices.— Working in partnership with the NGO, Associação de RPPNs do MS (REPAMS) and property owners adopting sustainable land use practices, WCS-Brazil is encouraging the establishment of permanent reserves, called RPPNs,on private ranches and farms. Property owners that establish an RPPN will receive tax breaks from the Brazilian government, and they will benefit from future certification programs that reward efforts to preserve native vegetation cover and maintain ecosystem services.
Based on the widespread success of the 2010 bird guide, Wildlife Conservation Society Birds of Brazil: the Pantanal and Cerrado of central Brazil by John A. Gwynne, Robert S. Ridgely, Guy Tudor, and Martha Argel (link to bird book page), WCS-Brazil is also exploring the viability of expanding regional ecotourism based on bird watching. Ecotourism provides additional income for eco-friendly property owners and is an important incentive for conserving native habitats.
Educational outreach.—Through an educational outreach program, WCS-Braziland partner NGOs, such as Instituto Ambiental Quinta do Sol and REPAMS, are helping to instill a conservation ethic among rural community members, fill basic knowledge gaps concerning the importance of conservation, and expand the use of environmentally and economically sustainable land use practices on regional properties. Using a variety of activities and educational materials, the program targets a broad socioeconomic spectrum of rural property owners,workers, and students.
The program sponsors and facilitates the participation of landowners and rural workers in workshops and capacity-building courses that demonstrate the benefits of sustainable land use practices and provide technical training for implementing the practices.Courses include: instill a conservation ethic among rural community members, fill basic knowledge gaps concerning the importance of conservation, and expand the use of environmentally and economically sustainable land use practices on regional properties. Using a variety of activities and educational materials, the program targets a broad socioeconomic spectrum of rural property owners, workers, and students.
- Best-management practices for sustainable cattle ranching, use of cost-effective movable electric fencing for pasture rotational systems, care of gestatingcattle and newborn calves, and agroforestry
The impact of the workshops and courses are evaluated with knowledge and attitude surveys given to participants before and after the educational activities. WCS-Brazilhas developed informative booklets and pamphlets that are distributed at regional social gatherings, sporting events, and schools. The materials include: a booklet titled "Boi, sombra e água fresca" (cattle, shade and fresh water), which is a guide to sustainable live stock production and improved profit for small rural properties, e.g., many of the dairy farms in the Cerrado highlands; a pamphlet titled, "Corrego, para que te quero?" (stream, why do we value you?), which explains the importance of protecting stream-side forests, water sources, and freshwater biodiversity for maintaining water quality and quantity, as well as rural livelihoods; and
- a banner and pamphlet titled "Projecto Queixada" (white-lipped peccary project), which explains the value of white-lipped peccaries as bioindicators of forest health, and outlines the differences between native peccary species and exotic feral pigs. The latter is critical,so that feral pig hunters do not mistakenly kill native peccaries.
WCS-Brazil’s environmental education targeting rural youth includes a series of presentations at regional schools entitled, “diga não ao desmatamento
” (say no to deforestation) about the importance of preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services.
To help promote positive attitudes about wildlife and freshwater biodiversity among rural students and their extended families, WCS-Brazil provides uniforms for futsal teams. In addition to having uniforms that display either white-lipped peccaries or freshwater organisms as team symbols, the student/athletes assist WCS-Brazil researchers with environmental monitoring and dissemination of conservation messages.
To date, WCS-Brazil’s educational outreach campaign has reached a socioeconomically diverse range of communities occupying >170,000 ha of rural properties in the Pantanal and bordering Cerrado. It is hoped that these more knowledgeable communities will make significant contributions to conservation of regional ecosystem services and biodiversity.