The areas of forest formation, savannah formation, swamp forest, mangrove, restinga - in other words, natural forests - occupy 58% of Brazil

New data from MapBiomas, obtained from satellite monitoring of the Brazilian territory, shows that the loss of natural forests in Brazil between 1985 and 2022 was intense. During this period, the area occupied by natural forests fell from 581.6 million hectares to 494.1 million hectares, a reduction of 15%. The last five years accounted for 11% of the 87.6 million hectares of natural forests cut down in these 38 years. Of this total, more than 75 million hectares were on private property. The figures are part of the data published in Collection 8 of the Annual Mapping of Land Cover and Land Use in Brazil carried out by MapBiomas.

The mapping of natural forests covers different types of tree cover: forest formations, savannas, flooded forests, mangroves and restinga. Together, these ecosystems occupy 58% of the national territory. When all of them are considered, the Amazon (78%) and the Caatinga (54%) are the biomes with the highest proportion of natural forests in 2022. The biomes that lost the most natural forests between 1985 and 2022 were the Amazon (13%) and the Cerrado (27%).

Two-thirds of the total cut between 1985 and 2022 (58 million hectares) corresponds to forest formations, which have been reduced by 14% in 38 years, or approximately 1.6 million hectares per year. Forest formations are areas of vegetation with a predominance of tree species and a continuous canopy, such as the forests that typically predominate in the Amazon and the Atlantic Rainforest.

>> Access the highlights of Brazil's forests between 1985-2022

Almost all (95%) of the conversion of natural forests in Brazil has been for agriculture, i.e. after deforestation the area has been converted for agricultural use - either pasture or crop cultivation. In the first two decades of the series, we saw an increase in forest loss, followed by a period of reduction in the deforested area from 2006 onwards. However, in the last five years there has been an increase in forest loss, reaching almost 10 million hectares.

Considering only forest formations: they would occupy only 43% of the country in 2022: 369.1 million hectares, or the equivalent of three times the area of Pará. Of this total, 308 million hectares, or 84% of the total, are in the Amazon - which also accounts for 86% of the forest suppression detected in this category between 1985 and 2022. The biomes with the greatest forest cover in Brazil are the Amazon and the Atlantic Forest, with 73% (308 million hectares) and 26% (28 million hectares) of the total area of each biome, respectively.

There is forest in Brazil's other biomes, but to a much lesser extent: 13% in the Cerrado (25 million hectares), 4% in the Caatinga (3 million hectares), 16% in the Pantanal (2.4 million hectares) and 11% in the Pampa (2.2 million hectares). All the biomes have lost forest in the last 38 years, with the exception of the Pampa, which has remained stable.

"Forests are important not only for maintaining climate balance, but also for protecting ecosystem services that are vital to society and its economy. The continued loss of forests poses a direct threat to biodiversity, water quality, food security and climate regulation," says Julia Shimbo, MapBiomas' Scientific Coordinator.

The Amazon is also home to flooded forests - a new category that has been monitored by MapBiomas since this year in this biome. These are formations that are established along watercourses, occupying the periodically or permanently flooded plains and terraces, which acquire the physiognomy of floodplain forests and igapó forests. Between 1985 and 2022, 430,000 hectares of floodplain forests were lost in the Amazon, where they occupied 18.8 million hectares or 4.4% of the biome in 2022.

"The Amazon's floodplain forests provide several essential ecosystem services. They harbor a unique biodiversity, act as carbon sinks, regulate the hydrological cycle and the flow of rivers. They also maintain aquatic habitats and provide natural resources for local communities. However, these ecosystems face serious threats, mainly from human activity, such as deforestation, mining, infrastructure construction, climate change, fires, unsustainable logging and water pollution. The protection and sustainable management of these areas are crucial for the preservation of biodiversity, the maintenance of ecosystem services and the integrity of these unique ecosystems in the Amazon region," says Luis Oliveira Jr. researcher on the Amazon team at MapBiomas.

The savanna formation covers 12% of Brazil's territory, or 104.5 million hectares - the equivalent of three times the size of the state of Goiás. This formation, which is characterized by vegetation with tree species distributed more sparsely and in the midst of continuous herbaceous-shrub vegetation, is the second most representative class of natural forest in terms of area in Brazil and proportionally the one that has seen the most deforestation. Between 1985 and 2022, the loss of savannah formation totaled 29 million hectares or 22% of the area existing in 1985. The rate of devastation was approximately 700,000 hectares per year. Of every five hectares deforested, more than four (83%) were cut down in the Cerrado. In the Caatinga, the loss was 10% (4.7 million hectares).

More than half of the savannah formation (53%) is in the Cerrado. The rest is in the Caatinga (42%) and other biomes (5%), with the exception of the Pampa. In 2022 there were 1.5 million hectares in the Amazon (0.4% of the biome), 1.3 million hectares in the Atlantic Forest (1% of the biome) and 2 million hectares in the Pantanal (16% of the biome). Savannah formations account for 28% of the Cerrado (56 million hectares) and half of the Caatinga (44 million hectares).

"In biomes such as the Cerrado and Caatinga, which have already lost a significant part of their native vegetation, the rate of deforestation of savannas is alarming, especially in the Matopiba region, which still has large remnants of this ecosystem, but which are being converted for the expansion of agriculture," says Barbara Costa, a researcher on the Cerrado team at MapBiomas. 

In the case of mangroves - a class of vegetation that can be found all along the Brazilian coast with the exception of the coast of Rio Grande do Sul - the total area remained stable at around one million hectares, but with regional variations: stability in the Amazon and localized reductions in the northeast and southeast of the country.

"Despite their stability on a national scale, we can't forget that mangroves are unevenly distributed across the country - concentrated mainly in the North. We therefore need to think about different strategies for preserving these ecosystems. In the north, we think about conservation, while in the northeast and southeast, we need restoration strategies," explains César Diniz, technical coordinator of MapBiomas' coastal zone mapping.

The restinga arborea - a forest formation that is established on sandy soils or dunes in the coastal zone and can be found from Alagoas to Rio Grande do Sul - has lost 69,000 hectares (10%) in the last 38 years, going from 696,000 hectares in 1985 to 626,000 hectares in 2022. Last year, 88% of the restinga area was in the Atlantic Forest and 12% in the Pampa.

"Despite its restricted area on the Brazilian coast, the restinga has been converted for agricultural activities such as pastures, agriculture and forestry, as well as urban expansion. This conversion impacts biodiversity, endemic species, the protection of coastal ecosystems such as dunes and beaches and affects another important function of this formation, which is to serve as a barrier to the advance of the sea," says Natalia Crusco, MapBiomas' technical coordinator for the Atlantic Forest. 

Analysis of MapBiomas' annual maps of land cover and use since 1985 allows us to identify secondary forests, i.e. forests that have grown back in deforested areas. In 2021, they occupied 41 million hectares across Brazil, equivalent to 8% of the country's natural forests. The biomes with the highest proportion of secondary forests are the Atlantic Forest and the Caatinga, with 27% each (8.1 million hectares and 12.5 million hectares, respectively), followed by the Cerrado (12% of the biome, or 10 million hectares), the Pantanal (8% of the biome, or 100,000 hectares), the Amazon (3% of the biome, or 9.8 million hectares) and the Pampa (2% of the biome, or 300,000 hectares). With the exception of the Atlantic Forest and the Caatinga, they are not the main target of deforestation in Brazilian biomes: around 70% of vegetation suppression in natural forests between 1985 and 2022 will take place in primary forest areas. In the case of the Amazon, this percentage is 82%.

"In the Atlantic Forest, more than half of the deforestation is in secondary vegetation (63%). Considering the historical devastation of the most deforested biome in the country, today we have less than a third of its original cover preserved. In recent years we have seen that, as well as losing areas of primary forest, we are losing opportunities to recover forest cover. These recovering areas are deforested again before they can consolidate and provide the ecosystem services (water, air quality, biodiversity, etc.) that are essential for the recovery of the Atlantic Forest," says MapBiomas' technical coordinator, Marcos Rosa.

The states with the highest proportion of forest are Amazonas (93%), Acre (85%) and Amapá (82%). The state of Amazonas also has the largest area of forest with 145 million hectares, almost a third of the country's forests (29%), followed by Pará (93 million hectares) and Mato Grosso (47 million hectares). The forest area of these three states represents more than half of Brazil's forest area (58%). But Mato Grosso and Pará also lead the states that have lost the most natural forest area, with 31.4 million hectares and 18.4 million hectares respectively. The states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, on the other hand, gained forest area between 1985 and 2022.