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Aquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 24: 522 (2014)

Published online 15 August 2013 in Wiley Online Library
(wileyonlinelibrary.com). DOI: 10.1002/aqc.2386

Brazilian wetlands: their denition, delineation, and classication

for research, sustainable management, and protection


Instituto Nacional de Cincia e Tecnologia em reas midas, Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso, Cuiab, Brazil
Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amaznia, Grupo MAUA, Manaus, Brazil
Ministrio da Cincia, Tecnologia e Inovao Brasil, Ecology Centre - University of Queensland, Australia
Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Biogeochemistry Department, Mainz, Germany
Laboratorio de Ecologa, Teledeteccin y Eco-Informtica, Instituto de Investigaciones e Ingeniera Ambiental, Universidad Nacional
de General San Martn, Argentina
Instituto de Cincias do Mar, Universidade Federal do Cear, Fortaleza, Brazil
Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Instituto de Biologia, Departamento de Ecologia, Laboratrio de Limnologia, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Ncleo em Ecologia e Desenvolvimento Socio-Ambiental de Maca, Brazil
Departamento Botnica e Ecologia, Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso, Cuiab, Brazil
Lab. Ecologia e Conservao de Ecossistemas Aquticos, Unisinos, Porto Alegre, Brazil
Instituto Oceanogrco, Universidade de So Paulo, Brazil
Universidade Estadual de Maring Nuplia, Maring, Brazil

1. Although 20% of Brazilian territory is covered by wetlands, wetland inventories are still incomplete. In 1993,
Brazil signed the Ramsar Convention but a coherent national policy for the sustainable management and
protection of wetlands has yet to be established.
2. Major gaps in the denition of a specic wetland policy are twofold: (1) the lack of standardized criteria by
which wetlands are dened and delineated that reects the specic ecological conditions of the country and (2)
the lack of a national classication of wetlands that takes into account specic hydrological conditions and
respective plant communities.
3. In recent years, efforts have been made at a regional level to improve public awareness of the ecology of
Brazilian wetlands, their benets to society, and the major threats endangering them. Studies have shown that
wetlands play a crucial role in the regional hydrological cycle and provide multiple benets for local
populations. Furthermore, Brazilian wetlands contribute signicantly to South American biodiversity.
Therefore, wetland conservation and sustainable management should be given high legislative priority.
4. This article provides a synthesis of the current body of knowledge on the distribution, hydrology, and vegetation
cover of Brazilian wetlands. Their denition, delineation, and classication at the national level are proposed in order
to establish a scientic basis for discussions on a national wetland policy that mandates the sustainable management of
Brazils extremely diverse and complex wetlands. This goal is particularly urgent in the face of the continuing and

*Correspondence to: Florian Wittmann, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Dep. Biogeochemistry, Hahn-Meiner Weg 1, 55128 Mainz Germany.
Email: f-wittmann@web.de; f.wittmann@mpic.de

Copyright # 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


dramatic deterioration of wetlands resulting from large-scale agro-industrial expansion, and hydroelectric projects as
well as the projected impact of global climate change on hydrological cycles.
Copyright # 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Received 05 February 2013; Revised 28 June 2013; Accepted 29 June 2013

KEY WORDS: Amazonian wetlands; cerrado wetlands; coastal wetlands; ood pulse; Pantanal; Ramsar Convention; wetland
vegetation; wetland policy

INTRODUCTION by the many endemic species of terrestrial invertebrates

and trees in Amazonian oodplains (Erwin and Adis,
Wetlands are among the most threatened ecosystems
1982; Adis, 1997; Junk, 2000; Wittmann et al., 2013,
worldwide despite several international treaties that
and the development of morphological, anatomical
recommend both their regular inventory and efforts
and physiological adaptations as well as specic
aimed at their protection (Millennium Ecosystem
life-history traits of invertebrates (Adis and Junk,
Assessment, 2005; Darwall et al., 2008; SCBD, 2010).
Brazil is the fth largest country in the world, 2002). Furthermore, wetlands inuence in multiple
covering an area in the Neotropics of about 8.5 ways species diversity of adjacent upland and deep-
million km2, in which a wide variety of wetland types water habitats. For example, in the Pantanal, there
occupy an estimated 20% of the national territory are 104 wetland-dependent bird species and 286
(Junk et al., 2011). Different types of forested upland species. Some upland species are, outside the
wetlands cover about 30% of the humid tropics of the Pantanal, in danger of extinction, such as the
Amazon lowlands. This percentage decreases toward hyacinth macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus), but
the dryer areas in the northern and southern parts of have large populations inside the Pantanal (Junk et al.,
Brazil, but even in the savanna belts there are 2006). Marine sh species, such as Mugil spp.,
extensive wetland systems. Some of these cover tens Anchoa spp., Centropomus spp., Sphoeroides spp.,
of thousands of square kilometres, e.g. the Panatanal and Lutjanus spp., use the mangroves for spawning
Matogrossense and the ooded savannas of the and as juvenile nurseries, analogous to the use by
Araguaia River, including Bananal Island. Along the riverine freshwater sh species of the adjacent
Atlantic coast, mangroves are found down to 2830oS, oodplains. The long-distance spawning migrations
covering about 13 800 km2 (Kjerfve and Lacerda, of some characids, such as Semaprochilodus spp.,
1993). Indeed, extended lagoons and connected Prochilodus nigricans, and Brycon melanopterus,
wetlands are characteristic of the entire Brazilian coast. link deep-water habitats of the river channel to the
Wetlands provide many services for society, such periodically inundated oodplains (Junk, 2007).
as water storage, the buffering of river and stream The negative impacts of human-imposed pulse
discharge, groundwater recharge, sediment regulations on biodiversity and sheries have been
retention, water purication, microclimate regulation, demonstrated in several studies of the Paran River
recreation and ecotourism, organic carbon storage, and its oodplain (Hoeinghaus et al., 2009; Barletta
timber production, and the provision of non-timber et al., 2010).
products, medicinal plants, sh, agricultural products, The mean global value of these services was
drinking water for humans and livestock, and pasture originally estimated by Costanza et al. (1997),
land for animal husbandry. Furthermore they while more recent estimates were based on efforts
contribute to cultural safeguarding by providing of an international initiative on The Economics of
home for traditional communities (Millennium Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB, 2013). Both
Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). estimates show values for wetlands that are higher
Wetlands also contribute signicantly to biodiversity than those of most other ecosystems; however,
(Gopal et al., 2000). Predictable ood-pulsing wetlands economic valuations of specic wetlands may vary
can be considered as centres of speciation, as evidenced widely. For example, according to Seidl and

Copyright # 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Aquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 24: 522 (2014)

Moraes (2000), who used methods similar to those Research in Limnology, Ichthyology and Aquaculture,
of Costanza et al. (1997), the global wetland value at the State University of Maring, Paran, the
for services of the Pantanal of Nhecolndia is half Institute of Marine Sciences of the Federal
that of the annual 14 785 US$ ha-1 estimated by University of Cear (LABOMAR-UFC), the Institute
the latter authors. Regardless of exact values, of Oceanography of Sao Paulo University, the
available data already point out the magnitude of Institute of Oceanography of the Federal University
the economic, ecological, and social value that of Rio Grande, and the Museu Paraense Emilio
intact wetlands provide to Brazilian society. Goeldi in Belm, Par. Consequently, classication
Despite their geographic extension, diversity, and systems are already available for Brazilian mangroves
economic importance, wetlands are rarely mentioned (Kjerfve and Lacerda, 1993), the permanent swamps
in federal legislation, state constitutions, or of the cerrado (veredas) (Ribeiro and Walter, 1998;
environmental legislation. There is no national policy Arajo et al., 2002), parts of the semi-arid north east
that regulates their protection and management. (Maltchik et al., 1999), the southern part of the
Only the Pantanal is distinguished as a National country (Maltchik et al., 2003, 2004), the upper
Heritage site by the 1988 constitution. Moreover, as Paran River oodplain (Thomaz et al., 2004), the
noted above, some large wetlands, e.g. the Pantanal (Nunes da Cunha and Junk, 2011a), the
oodplains of the Amazon River and several of its wetlands of the Amazon basin (Junk et al., 2011),
tributaries, as well as those of the Paran and Paraguai and the wetland habitats of the central Amazon
Rivers, along with the Pantanal Matogrossense, River oodplain (vrzea) (Junk et al., 2012b).
cross national boundaries into other countries, such In this paper, a denition of Brazilian wetlands is
that international efforts are needed if harmonious proposed that corresponds to the specic hydrological
environmental policies are to be established. conditions of the country and suggests a basis
In 1993, Brazil signed the Ramsar Convention for wetland delineation. A short ecological
and since then has declared several Ramsar sites, characterization of major wetland types is presented
but it has been very slow in the implementation of and a hierarchical wetland classication method is
wetland inventories and in wetland classication introduced that considers hydrological and vegetation
(Diegues, 1994, 2002). This process is complicated parameters as the main wetland attributes. The
by the dozens of local terms for different wetland classication is discussed in the context of other
types and by the lack of broadly accepted national and international classication efforts. As
parameters to dene wetlands, both of which are the rst step in the formulation of a Brazilian wetland
essential preconditions for a modern and efcient policy, it aims to contribute to worldwide efforts to
national wetland policy aligned with the terms of achieve a better understanding of the extent,
the Convention. Such a policy is essential, structures, and functions of wetlands as well as the
particularly considering the impact of recurrent threats that endanger them.
catastrophic oods and droughts throughout the
countrys territory and the likelihood that such
events will increase in response to the forecasted
global changes in climate (IPCC, 2007). PRECIPITATION, RIVER HYDROLOGY, AND
Recently, a few Brazilian institutions have initiated THEIR IMPACT ON FLOOD PULSES IN
efforts to achieve wetland classication. These BRAZILIAN WETLANDS
institutions include the National Institute for Science Precipitation is not uniformly distributed within the
and Technology in Wetlands (INCT-INAU) at the different regions of Brazil; rather, rainfall is highest
Federal University of Mato Grosso, Cuiab, the in the north west (>3500 mm yr-1) and lowest in the
working group Monitoring Amazonian Wetlands semi-arid north east (300 mm yr-1). Moreover, most
(MAUA) at the National Amazon Research Institute of the countrys regions face pronounced dry and
(INPA) at Manaus, the Laboratory for Ecology and wet seasons, with the exception of the rainfall-rich
Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems (UNISINOS) at north-western tropical forests and the southern
So Leopoldo, Rio Grande do Sul, the Center for coastal areas (Figure 1).

Copyright # 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Aquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 24: 522 (2014)

ood pulses of varying height, according to the

intensity of local rainstorms (Figure 3), while
depressions in the semi-arid north east have
unpredictable inundations of short duration every
few years. Structures and functions of large river
oodplains are described by the ood pulse
concept (Junk et al., 1989; Junk and Wantzen,
2004; Junk, 2005).
Coastal wetlands with direct marine inuence are
subject to plurimodal, predictable tidal pulses
whereas, further inland, wetlands in coastal sand
plains are subject to short, unpredictable, or
monomodal pulses during the rainy season. A general
classication of the ood pulses is given in Table 1.
Only a few Brazilian wetlands are permanently wet
and have a mostly stable water level.

Figure 1. Precipitation curves for different areas of Brazil (Salati and DEFINITION AND DELINEATION
Marques, 1984, completed by J. Schngart).
The extended terrestrial phases in ood-pulsing
wetlands lead to the occupation of higher-lying
Large uctuations in water level, also called wetland areas by a specic vegetation comprising
ood-pulsing, differentiate most wetlands in Brazil woody and herbaceous plants with a large ecological
and other countries of the tropics and sub-tropics tolerance of ood and drought stress. In the Amazon
from those in countries at higher latitudes. rainforest, highly ood-tolerant, species-rich
Wetlands in the latter include bogs, fens, and mires, oodplain forests dominate wetlands. In savanna
which typically have a relatively stable water level. areas, the severe drought stress that often
In regions exposed to ood-pulsing, excess characterizes the terrestrial phase favours a mixture
precipitation during the rainy season leads to of savanna vegetation and forested patches
periodic sheet-ooding of large, at interuvial (Drechsler et al., 2009; Lourival et al., 2011; Nunes
areas, the periodic lling-in of depressions with da Cunha and Junk, 2011b). Wild res are additional
water, and the lateral inundation of large areas potential stress factors for wetland biota. Aquatic and
along streams and rivers. These events result in the palustrine herbaceous plant species and invertebrates
formation of extended river oodplains along most usually develop during the aquatic phase, often from
of the large rivers and a dense network of riparian seed banks in the sediments or from vegetative resting
wetlands along streams and low-order rivers. Flood stages. Fishes, aquatic birds, insects, reptiles,
pulses are monomodal and predictable in the large amphibians, and mammals tend to recolonize
oodplains because they are part of the cycle of wet temporary wetlands by emigration from permanently
and dry seasons at regional or even continental aquatic habitats. Then, at the beginning of the next
scale. The average amplitude of large-river ood dry period they return to the permanent water bodies
pulses can exceed 10 m in Amazonia but are or become stranded, die, and are incorporated within
considerably lower towards the south, depending on terrestrial food webs.
changes both in the total amount and the Some wetlands, such as the large-river
periodicity of the rainfall (Figure 2). Pulses in oodplains and the large periodically inundated
interuvial wetlands reach up to 2 m on average. savannas, cover huge areas and are very complex.
Lower-order rivers are subjected to short, unpredictable For instance, the main-stem Amazon River

Copyright # 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Aquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 24: 522 (2014)

Figure 2. Flood curves for large Brazilian rivers. The geographic positions of the respective data collection points are indicated by the numbers on the
map. The curves represent the water-level uctuation (m) during the annual cycle between 1970 and 2010. The black curve represents the daily mean
water level and the curves above and below it the daily maximum and minimum values for this period (for comparative reasons, the absolute minimum
value of all curves was dened as zero on the height scale).The numbers below the river names indicate the mean values of the ood pulse
amplitude (m).

oodplain (vrzea) covers 98 110 km2 (Melack and Guapore River, extending into the Bolivian
Hess, 2010); the periodically ooded savannas in savannas of the Mamor and Mortes Rivers
Roraima in Northern Amazonia (and Rupununi (Llanos dos Moxos), 92 100 km2 (Hamilton et al.,
in Guiana), about 16 500 km2 (Melack and Hess, 2004); the Pantanal at the border of Brazil,
2010); the periodically ooded savannas of the Bolivia, and Paraguay, 109 590 km2 (Hamilton

Copyright # 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Aquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 24: 522 (2014)
10 W. J. JUNK ET AL.

Figure 3. Daily precipitation and discharge in a low-order savanna stream near Cuiaba (according to Wantzen, 2003).

Table 1. Types of ood pulses and affected wetlands

Predictability Frequency Amplitude Wetland type

Predictable Monomodal High Large river oodplains

Low Large interuvial wetlands, wetlands in coastal sand plains
(e.g. the Lenis maranhenses)
Predictable Polymodal Varying Tidal wetlands
Unpredictable Polymodal Varying Wetlands along low-order rivers, in depressions, and in
coastal sand plains
Unpredictable Pluriannual Low Wetlands in semi-arid zones of north-eastern Brazil

et al., 1996); and the Araguaia River wetlands, (hyperseasonal termite savannas; Eiten, 1983).
including Bananal Island, 58 600 km2 (Melack and These permanently dry islands are of utmost
Hess, 2010). Also of note are the coastal tidal importance as periodic refuges of terrestrial
wetlands, mostly mangroves and salt marshes organisms and they contribute decisively to the
along the Maranho/Par littoral, which cover maintenance of biodiversity cycles, functions, and
about 7000 km2 (Lacerda, 2001) (Figure 4). processes. They must therefore be considered as
Many of these wetlands include elevated and indispensable parts of the large wetland systems.
permanently dry areas of up to a few square The extraordinary habitat diversity of the large
kilometres, deriving from outcropping base-rocks Neotropical wetlands requires individual habitat
(inselbergs), palaeo-uvial terraces, or ancient sea- classications, as already proposed for the
level relict sand ridges. In shallow ooded savanna Pantanal (Nunes da Cunha and Junk, 2011a)
areas, termite mounds form small, permanently and the central Amazon River oodplain (Junk
dry islands of a few square metres each et al., 2012b).

Copyright # 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Aquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 24: 522 (2014)

Figure 4. Distribution of major wetlands in northern South America (according to Junk, 2007).

Despite their smaller sizes, wetlands in the dry converting large areas of wetlands into croplands.
north east, along the tropical coast to the south east In southern Brazil, this transformation is already
and in the wet subtropical portion of Brazil, play a extensive. The resulting reduction in wetland buffer
signicant role in the regulation of the regional capacity together with the increased surface run-off
hydrological regime and maintenance of biodiversity. leads to annual catastrophic oods, as occurred in
Many of these wetlands harbour endemic and 2011 in Minas Gerais, with many victims and heavy
endangered species (Maltchik et al., 1999, 2003, losses of public and private goods (Junk et al., 2012a).
2004), and provide water and food for many local Furthermore, the leaching of fertilizers and pesticides
communities and for livestock. They also serve as as well as the run-off of untreated sewage from urban
essential sources of recreation (Esteves, 2011). areas causes a deterioration of water quality in rivers,
Traditional communities have developed many streams and other downslope wetlands. Coastal
strategies to use specic wetland resources during wetlands have been destroyed by the expansion of
the terrestrial and aquatic phases. Nevertheless, cities and in response to demands for waterfront or
politicians and urban planners often consider scenic homes. Brazil has enormous hydroelectric
wetlands as wastelands, allowing their exploitation potential but some of its reservoirs have destroyed
as solid-waste dumping sites or housing areas or river oodplains, interrupting the longitudinal
their disruption by road construction. In many connectivity of rivers and damaging downstream
regions modern agro-industries have destroyed wetlands through the alteration of ood pulses,
wetlands, and thus their multiple benets, by sediment load, and other limnological parameters, as

Copyright # 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Aquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 24: 522 (2014)
12 W. J. JUNK ET AL.

shown for the Paran River and its oodplain hydric soil indicators we fail to achieve wetland
(Hoeinghaus et al., 2009; Barletta et al., 2010). These delineation and protection, not only in Brazil but also
numerous adverse effects highlight the importance of worldwide, i.e. in all regions where there is a
including the ood-pulse concept in the denition of pronounced seasonality in rainfall. In fact, all of the
Brazilian wetlands and integrating it into plans for well-known large African wetlands, such as the
their protection. Okawango Delta, the Niger River oodplain, and the
We propose the following denition and delineation Sudd, annually undergo an extended dry phase.
of Brazilian wetlands: Many Australian wetlands become wet only every
few years but they are of utmost importance for the
Wetlands are ecosystems at the interface between
maintenance of biodiversity. Likewise, in temperate
aquatic and terrestrial environments; they may be
regions, large areas of river oodplains fall
continental or coastal, natural or articial,
permanently or periodically inundated by shallow periodically dry. In many cases, wetland status of
water or consist of waterlogged soils. Their waters high-lying oodplain areas inundated only during
may be fresh, or highly or mildly saline. Wetlands are peak oods is not recognized, often facilitating
home to specic plant and animal communities exploitation of these areas as cropland and
adapted to their hydrological dynamics. protected by dikes, e.g. along the Mississippi,
Missouri, and Ohio Rivers in the USA and the
The extent of a wetland can be determined by the border Rhine River in Germany. This has had far-reaching
of the permanently ooded or waterlogged area, or in adverse consequences for the ood regime, nutrient
the case of uctuating water levels, by the limit of the cycles, and habitat and species diversity not only of
area inuenced during the mean maximum ood. The former and still active riveroodplain complexes
outer borders of wetlands are indicated by the absence but also of river deltas and the adjacent sea (Mitsch
of hydromorphic soils and/or hydrophytes and/or
and Day, 2006).
specic woody species that are able to grow in
periodically or permanently ooded or waterlogged The Ramsar Convention (Scott and Jones, 1995)
soils. The denition of a wetland area should include, classies wetlands worldwide, differentiating between
if present, internal permanently dry areas as these marine and coastal, inland, and man-made wetland
habitats are of fundamental importance to the systems. These systems are subdivided for hydrological
maintenance of the functional integrity and characterization using the terms subtidal, intertidal,
biodiversity of the respective wetland. perennial, intermittent, permanent, and seasonal.
Sub-units are characterized by geomorphological,
hydrological, and/or botanical parameters. The
PROS AND CONS OF SOME EXISTING inclusion of shallow-water coral reefs in the
CLASSIFICATION SYSTEMS denition is questionable and may over-extend the
wetland concept. The classication system of
The scientic literature contains many denitions of wetlands and deep water habitats of the US Forest
wetlands as well as systems for their classication and Wildlife Service (UFWS) (Cowardin et al.,
(summarized in Mitsch and Gosselink, 2008). 1979) differentiates between marine, estuarine,
However, most of them emphasize wetlands with riverine, lacustrine, and palustrine systems and uses
permanent or long-term wet conditions while the terms subtidal, intertidal, tidal, lower perennial,
largely neglecting those subjected to ood-pulsing, higher perennial, intermittent, limnetic and littoral
with long terrestrial phases. Organic matter for hydrological classication of the subsystems.
accumulation as a result of permanent shallow Classes are characterized by geomorphological,
inundation or long-term waterlogging is a good hydrological, and/or botanical parameters. The
indicator of permanently wet conditions. In contrast, hydrogeomorphic classication of Brinson (1993)
ood-pulsing wetlands with long terrestrial phases do relies on geomorphic, physical, and chemical
not exhibit accumulation of organic matter as parameters to provide a better understanding of the
periodic aeration facilitates the decomposition of relationship between organisms and their environment.
organic matter. Thus, by exclusively focusing on It is a generic approach to classication and not a

Copyright # 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Aquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 24: 522 (2014)

specic one to be used in practice (Brinson, 1993). most other countries often starts with destruction
Based on the Australian experience, Semeniuk and of the natural vegetation cover, e.g. by timber
Semeniuk (1995) proposed a geomorphic approach, extraction, cattle ranching, and crop plantations,
combining landforms and degrees of wetness, to the which in turn cause changes in the hydrological
global classication of inland wetlands. The authors regime through water abstraction, drainage, ood
correctly extended the denition of the peripheral control, and reservoir construction and is inevitably
wetland boundary to periodic dampness, or hydric followed by inappropriate civil construction. These
soils or vegetation indicative of wet conditions. Their steps can be monitored by remote-sensing techniques
system does not reect the geomorphic heterogeneity and the consequent measures required for wetland
of large-river oodplains and internal deltas such as protection, including proposals for sustainable
the Amazonian large river oodplain, the Pantanal, management, can easily be explained to politicians,
and the Okawango Delta. There are two classication planners, decision-makers, and the public.
systems for Argentinian wetlands: Neiff (2001) Nonetheless, the large number of Brazilian wetlands
differentiates between nine types, using 12 parameters with oscillating water levels requires that greater
to describe their geomorphology, soils, re stress, emphasis be placed on the different types of ood
vegetation, fauna, water origin, and several pulses, which are under-represented in all of the
hydrological factors; Brinson and Malvrez (2002) classication systems discussed above. While the
also differentiate between nine types, but use hydro-geomorphic arguments provided by Brinson
climate, hydrology, soils and the regional vegetation (1993) and Semeniuk and Semeniuk (1995) are very
as criteria. helpful from a scientic point of view, they contribute
The problems arising during the elaboration of little to the continuing political discussion on wetland
classication systems were discussed by Finlayson management in Brazil.
and Van der Valk (1995), who pointed out the For management purposes, the inclusion of local
necessity of resolving differences between regional terms in national classication systems, as was done
wetland denitions and regional typologies. They by Gopal and Sah (1995) for Indian wetlands, is
also drew attention to the need to standardize data likely to be benecial because it often increases the
collection and disseminate new technologies in local populations willingness to accept the imposed
order to establish ample international inventories. regulations for the sustainable management and
Indeed, many denitions and classication systems protection of wetlands. This approach is included in
were formulated decades ago for specic purposes the habitat classication systems provided for large
and do not correspond to current scientic and and complex wetland systems, such as the Pantanal
regulatory requirements. Modern approaches, such (Da Silva et al., 2000; Nunes da Cunha and Junk,
as the Asian Wetland Inventory (AWI), provide 2011a) and the central Amazon River oodplain
powerful tools for the Assessment and Monitoring of (Junk et al., 2012b).
Wetland Biodiversity and Wise Use (Lopez et al.,
2002). The need for a better wetland classication was
recognized by the Ramsar Scientic and Technical PROPOSAL FOR THE CLASSIFICATION OF
Review Panel, which called for the development BRAZILIAN WETLANDS
and testing of a hydro-geomorphically-based The current classication for Brazilian wetlands
system of wetland classication (Davidson and uses the structure proposed for the classication of
Finlayson, 2007). Amazonian inland wetlands (Junk et al., 2011). It
The new Brazilian classication differentiates differs, however, in that one category of the
between coastal, inland, and articial wetlands regional Amazonian classication system, which
and concentrates on hydrology and vegetation differentiates wetlands on the basis of water colour
cover. Hydrology is the most important factor (white-water, black-water, and clear-water rivers),
determining wetland characteristics and is given indicative of physicochemical conditions, has been
highest priority. The approach is a practical one removed from the national classication system,
since human impact on wetlands in Brazil and in since it is applicable only to the Amazon and not

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14 W. J. JUNK ET AL.

to the entire country. However, in the future, the The third hierarchic level is based on the
physical and chemical characteristics of waters and community structure and the occurrence of higher
soils are likely to provide the basis for a more plants and is divided into classes, subclasses, and
detailed classication. macrohabitats. The communities of higher plants are
The Brazilian classication of wetlands is particularly appropriate for wetland classication
segregated into three levels: (1) systems, (2) units (Drechsler et al., 2009), especially considering their
dened by hydrological parameters, and (3) units visibility, dynamics, and longevity, all of which
dened by higher plants, as shown in Figure 5. The respond and reect environmental conditions over
rst (system) level is divided into three categories: periods of months, years (herbaceous plants),
1. Coastal wetlands are dened as all wetlands, decades, and even centuries (trees) (Naiman and
permanent or temporary, with fresh, brackish, or Decamps, 1997; Casanova and Brock, 2000; Lourival
saline waters, under direct inuence of the tides, or et al., 2011). At the macrohabitat level, the absence
subject to saline intrusions, or inuenced by the of herbaceous plants can also serve as a criterion, for
atmospheric deposition of dissolved or particulate example in descriptions of sandbanks, rocky shores,
substances and/or propagules from the ocean. rocky outcrops, and steep erosion cliffs.
2. Inland wetlands are dened as all wetlands, Current knowledge of the community structure of
permanent or temporary, with fresh, saline, or salt wetland vegetation and the occurrence of species
water, that are located in the Brazilian inland and varies between the different wetland systems.
are thus without direct or indirect marine inuence. Species diversity is very large and cannot be
3. Articial wetlands are all wetlands, coastal or
discussed here in detail. One of the challenges of
inland, derived from human activities either in
organized (e.g. sh farms, rice paddy plantations),
future studies is the characterization of macrohabitats
or unorganized forms (wetlands around reservoirs by species lists and the determination of specic
or those that progressively develop by the indicator species. The following provides a brief
damming of streams or that form in depressions summary of the wetland vegetation in coastal and
caused by the excavation of soil for road inland wetlands.
construction, etc.). The vegetation of coastal wetlands is characterized
by mangroves, estuaries, and other types of wetland
The second hierarchic level is based on hydrological vegetation communities. Mangrove species composition
parameters and is composed of ve subsystems: three is well documented for classication purposes
describe coastal wetlands and two describe inland (Schaeffer-Novelli et al., 1990; Bigarella, 2001;
wetlands. The two inland wetland subsystems are Menezes et al., 2008) but there is much less
divided into three orders and two sub-orders. information on the vegetation of the other coastal
The differentiation into sub-units emphasizes the subsystems, because of the high diversity of these
importance of hydrology and acknowledges the environments, ranging from temporary to permanent
hydrological diversity of Brazilian natural inland wetlands along a salinity gradient of freshwater to
wetlands and wetland systems. This approach was hypersaline (Arajo and Henriques, 1984; Irgang
also used in the classication of Amazonian inland et al., 1984; Irgang and Gastal, 1996; Costa and
wetlands (Junk et al., 2011). Dias, 2001; Bove et al., 2003). In coastal lagoons
The hydrological characteristics of wetlands other salt-tolerant vegetation types may develop in
identify the origin of their waters (mainly from addition to mangroves. In particular, salt marshes
rain, a parent river, or the sea) and whether they with Spartina spp., Salicornia spp., Juncus spp.,
are permanent, with a rather stable water level, or Paspalum spp., Crenea spp., Sesuvium spp., Cyperus
subject to uctuating (pulsing) water levels and thus spp., Batis spp., and Sporobolus spp are prevalent
to dry and wet periods. As noted above, the (Costa and Davy, 1992; Arajo et al., 1998).
majority of Brazilian wetlands belong to the Inland wetlands are very diverse with respect to
category of pulsing systems. These are classied with their hydrology and vegetation cover. The majority
respect to the amplitude, duration, predictability, of central Amazonian wetlands are forested
and frequency of the ood pulse (Table 1). (Schngart et al., 2010; Wittmann et al., 2010;

Copyright # 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Aquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 24: 522 (2014)
System Subsystem Order Suborder Class Subclass Macrohabitat
1 Coastal wetlands
1.1. Wetlands influenced by predictable tidal flood pulses
Saltwater wetlands
Mangroves at sea shore
Salt marshes
Hypersaline areas
Mangroves in river mouth
Sandy shores
Rocky shores
Coastal lagoons subjected to tidal pulses
Flooded grasslands
Freshwater wetlands subjected to tidal pulses
Flooded forests
Flooded grasslands
1.2. Wetlands separated from the sea with little fluctuating water level
Coastal wetlands without permanent connection to the sea
Freshwater lagoons
Lagoons with different levels of salinity
Long-term flooded or water-logged forests
Long-term flooded or water-logged grasslands
1.3. Wetlands separated from the sea with fluctuating water level
Periodically flooded forests
Temporary lakes and ponds
2 Inland wetlands
2.1. Wetlands with relatively stable water level
Forested swampy wetlands
Mixed forests
Palm forests of Mauritia flexuosa
Palm forests of Copernicia prunifera
Swamps with multi-species herbaceous vegetation
Monodominant herbaceous swamps
Typha dominguensis
Cyperus giganteus
Hedychium coronarium
2.2. Wetlands with fluctuating water level
2.2.1. Monomodal, predictable pulse of long duration High amplitude
Floodplains along Amazonian white-water rivers (vrzeas)
Floodplains along Amazonian black- and clear-water rivers (igaps))
Floodplain of Paran River
Other high-amplitude pulsing floodplains Low amplitude
Large interfluvial wetlands at the middle Negro River
Amazonian hydromorphic edaphic savannas (campinas and campi-
Pantanal matogrossense
Araguaia River wetlands, Ilha do Bananal
Savanas of Roraima
Wetlands Guapor River
Other hydromorphic climatic savannas

2.2.2. Polymodal, unpredictable pulses of short duration

Riparian wetlands along small rivers (1-5th
Rain water fed wetlands in small depressions
2.2.3. Multiannual, unpredictable pulses of short duration
Rain water fed wetlands in depressions in the
semi-arid North-East
3 Artificial wetlands
Aquaculture systems
Water reservoirs (e.g. audes)
Paddy rice plantations
Depressions along roads
Repression of streams by roads
Wetlands around hydroelectric reservoirs
Drainage channels

Figure 5. Classication system of Brazilian wetlands according to hydrological and botanical parameters (woody and herbaceous plants). For the
classication of subclasses and macrohabitats see Junk et al. (2012b); for the classication of subclasses and macrohabitats see Nunes da Cunha
3 4
and Junk (2011a); classication of subclasses and macrohabitats in preparation by Junk et al.; classication of subclasses and macrohabitats not
yet available.

Copyright # 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Aquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 24: 522 (2014)
16 W. J. JUNK ET AL.

Wittmann, 2013). In nutrient-rich white-water river ooded during the rainy season and should be
oodplains (vrzeas), extended communities of fast- considered as wetlands. Herbaceous vegetation is
growing, highly productive, emergent, and free- scarce because of the very low nutrient status and
oating aquatic macrophytes develop at rising and extreme drought stress that characterize the dry
high waters in front of the oodplain forest season. Little is known about Amazonian swamp
(Piedade et al., 1991; Junk and Piedade, 1997). At and riparian forests along low-order rivers. In the
low water, these areas are occupied by terrestrial, discussion about the Amazonian rainforest, they
mostly annual grasses, sedges, and herbs. Aquatic are erroneously included in the category of upland
macrophytes are restricted to free-oating mats and rainforests. Clearly, a list of wetland indicator
emergent species because high ood pulses create species for these areas must be elaborated. Palm
unfavourable light conditions near the bottom in forests of Mauritia exuosa (buriti) are a specic
deep water. In shallow waters, the oodplain forest and widespread wetland type. They range in area
canopy absorbs too much light for herbaceous plant from 55 000 to >100 000 km2, forming extended
growth in the understorey. Consequently, there are swamps in moist depressions in the forests and
fewer aquatic macrophyte species in Amazonian savannas of tropical South America and often
forested wetlands than in cerrado wetlands, e.g. the storing considerable amounts of organic material
Pantanal, and the wetlands of southern Brazil (Kahn, 1991; Ruokolainen et al., 2001; Householder
(Table 2). In black-water river oodplains (igaps), et al., 2012).
coloured humic substances in the water absorb light Cerrado wetlands include veredas and wet
and the nutrient status is extremely low, which grasslands (Ribeiro and Walter, 1998), gallery forests
together limit the growth of free-oating and (Felli, 1995), but also large and very complex
emergent aquatic macrophytes during the aquatic wetlands, such as the Pantanal Matogrossense
phase and that of terrestrial species during the (Nunes da Cunha et al., 2007). Forested belts
terrestrial phase. composed of ood-tolerant trees occur along river
Both the genesis of Amazonian white-sand channels, around oodplain lakes, and in moist
habitats (campinas and campinaranas) and the depressions. Dryer areas are commonly occupied by
composition of their vegetation are poorly tree species that are highly drought- and re-tolerant
understood. Hydrological conditions can vary but also resistant to several months of shallow
considerably among the different campina types. ooding or waterlogging. The diversity of aquatic
Some, or at least parts of them, are waterlogged or macrophytes is much larger here as both shallow,
transparent water and the absence of dense forest
Table 2. Taxonomic diversity of trees and herbaceous plants in the favour a rich submerged and oating ora (Table 2).
Amazon River oodplain (vrzea) (Junk and Piedade, 1993;
Wittmann et al., 2010; Wittmann, 2013), the Pantanal (Pott and Pott,
On southern Brazilian plateaux there are
2000; Junk et al., 2006), and the freshwater wetlands of southern permanently wet grasslands on organic deposits
Brazil (Rio Grande do Sul) (Rolon et al., 2010) (turfeiras) that are heavily threatened by
Amazon South Brazilian reclamation for agricultural purposes. Ephemeral
oodplain Pantanal wetlands wetlands in the north-eastern dry region of Brazil
Woody plants are small ( 1 ha for ponds) and are prone to
Total >1000 750 179 shallow ooding every couple of years for a few
Terrestriala none 400 none
Palustrineb >1000 350 179c weeks only (Maltchik et al., 1999). They are very
Herbaceous plants important for the maintenance of regional
Total 390 1150 280 biodiversity, such as anurans. In coastal areas,
Terrestrial 340 900 no data
Aquatic/palustrine 50 250 280
wax palm swamps (Copernicia prunifera) replace
Endemics 68 tree species none 1 herb. speciesd the buriti palm swamps (Mauritia exuosa).
In non-ooded areas inside the Pantanal. Among the most threatened of Brazilian
In periodically ooded or waterlogged areas. wetlands are those of the Atlantic forest, for which
Mostly in riparian habitats of the campos sulinos (Wittmann,
little information exists. The original vegetation
Regnellidium diphyllum. cover of this biome has been reduced to 11.7% by

Copyright # 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Aquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 24: 522 (2014)

deforestation (Ribeiro et al., 2009). Wittmann offer a hierarchical classication system, which
(2012) differentiated inland wetlands of the would provide scientists working in Brazil with the
Atlantic forest in riparian forests along streams means to position their wetland studies within
and interuvial montane fens, bogs, and broader national and international contexts,
hygrophile forests and provided a synopsis of the thereby facilitating comparisons between different
existing literature on forest inventories and the wetlands, with the advantage of understanding the
most common wetland tree species. The wealth of (dis)similarities among them. A second and perhaps
regional terminologies attributed to forests more important objective is to provide a scientic
subjected to phreatic ooding suggests that a large basis for politicians and decision-makers to
variety of forest types should be expected but also elaborate wetland-specic policies and legislation.
that further work is required to allow their Better regulations are urgently needed given that
comparison with respect to their oristics, ecology, about 20% of the Brazilian territory is covered by
and biogeography (Scarano, 2006). Information wetlands that are being lost at alarming rates as
on herbaceous plant communities is scarce. human activities expand into these areas. The
Southern freshwater wetlands belong mostly to parameters and indicators for wetland denition
the subclass of swampy wetlands covered by and delineation and the classication itself, as
herbaceous plants, which occupy relatively small presented in this article, will equip Brazil with an
areas. An inventory of 260 wetlands of 0.1510 ha important tool for structuring and controlling the
revealed a low number of ood-tolerant trees and spread of articial wetlands, while making the
a highly diversied herbaceous aquatic and sustainable use of natural wetland systems an
palustric ora (Table 2, Rolon et al., 2010). environmental, social, and economic asset.
In Brazil, the number of articial wetlands as The differentiation of coastal, inland, and articial
well as their size and extent dramatically increased wetlands and their hierarchical classication based
during the 20th century. The increase reects the on hydrology and the community structure of
increasing number of hydroelectric power plants higher plants make the proposed system compatible
and drought prevention measures. The strongly with other classication systems worldwide, e.g. the
and irregularly uctuating water levels of these system developed for Indian wetlands (Gopal and
systems expose large areas of land to periodic dry Sah, 1995). Most of the wetland types described in
or waterlogged conditions. There is also a growing the Ramsar or USFWS classication can also be
number of rice paddy plantations within the found in the new Brazilian classication, albeit
wetlands of southern Brazil, and some 1500 ha of often at another hierarchical level, which gives them
mangroves have been converted into shrimp ponds a different importance in the overall wetland
on the Brazilian coast (2oS20oS) (Maia et al., hierarchy. A clear advantage of the new
2006). The cumulative environmental impact of classication is that it allows the introduction of
these cultivation areas has yet to be determined but additional units without the need to modify the
it is certainly large and provokes the liberation of entire concept. Considering the large size of Brazil
agrochemicals (Lacerda et al., 2006) and increased and the still precarious level of wetland inventories,
demand for fresh water that is abstracted from the description of additional wetland units, at least
neighbouring intact rivers and wetlands. at the macrohabitat level, can be expected.
The new classication of Brazilian wetlands is Indeed, the classication includes, at the class
presented in Figure 5. and subclass level, highly complex wetlands that
extend over tens of thousands of square kilometres
and require additional habitat classications for
scientic research, management, and protection.
Some of these classications already exist, e.g. for
Classication systems are often dependent on the the Pantanal (Nunes da Cunha and Junk, 2011a)
objective and on the chosen parameters. For and the Amazon River oodplain (vrzea) (Junk
Brazilian wetlands, the primary objective is to et al., 2012b). Others are in preparation, e.g. for

Copyright # 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Aquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 24: 522 (2014)
18 W. J. JUNK ET AL.

Amazonian black-water river oodplains (igaps), environmental legislation, rather than creating a new
and Paran, Araguaia, and Guapor River policy instrument specically focusing on wetlands.
oodplains, and can be integrated without major However, the continuing political discussion on the
difculty into the general classication presented new Brazilian Forest Code shows that this strategy
here. The classication can also be further specied, provides very little protection for the countrys
e.g. by subdividing macrohabitats into smaller units wetlands (Piedade et al., 2012). This perspective
according to water chemistry and/or soil parameters. creates serious impediments to the Brazilian
The emphasis given to hydrological classication sustainability agenda and the countrys commitments
parameters takes into account the specic climatic to the Ramsar Convention while compromising the
situation of Brazil. Different rainfall patterns lead opportunities for the wise use of Brazilian wetlands.
to the formation of permanent wetlands but also Conservation is also a complex issue when
to large periodic wetlands subject to ood pulses denitions and delineation are not well structured
differing in amplitude, duration, frequency, and and claried. Wetlands offer an extra level of
predictability. These hydrological parameters complexity for institutions in charge of planning their
underlie the structure and function of wetlands protection. The nature of the aquaticterrestrial
and their biodiversity, and thus also determine interface of wetlands is a shifting one, spatially,
the possibilities of wetland management and seasonally and temporally, which must be
conservation. The fact that most inland wetlands appreciated by planners and decision-makers.
are subject to extended dry periods implies the risk Recent studies have provided several potential
that developers and politicians regard these areas directions for future research aimed at developing
as permanently dry habitats in which natural plans for wetland protection, evolution, and
ooding is not considered an inherent attribute of persistence (Beger et al., 2010). The important
the system, but rather a catastrophic event that contribution of wetlands to water purication,
must be avoided or controlled. This view has ood control, and food production, both land- and
promoted the encroachment of conventional water-based, and the maintenance of high levels of
agriculture and infrastructure development within biodiversity and the rich genetic repository of their
wetlands, as was emphasized during recent organisms are just a few issues that clearly
disputes in the Brazilian Parliament over the new distinguish wetlands in terms of their ecosystem
Forest Code (Piedade et al., 2012). relevance to society. The second goal of the
According to Finlayson (2012) the extensive Ramsar Convention priorities for the next few
effort to develop international policy, supported years is to propose the designation of new Ramsar
by a substantial and expanding information base, sites, to ensure the representativeness of the various
has not stopped and reversed the global loss and/ types of wetlands in the respective countries.
or degradation of wetlands because national However, this implies the need both for a
governments have often failed to implement fully the classication system and a comprehensive inventory
recommendations of the Ramsar Convention. The of the wetlands.
Brazilian National Report on the Implementation of Certainly, this article is only a rst step towards
the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of 2012 resolving the very complex scientic and
indicates in Section 3.1.1 the existence of a administrative problems related to Brazilian wetlands,
comprehensive wetland inventory (BRASIL, 2012). but we hope that it will stimulate and ultimately help
As discussed herein, there is extensive information to frame the scientic efforts and research needed to
on Brazilian wetlands but it is far from being enhance an understanding of wetlands. At the same
comprehensive. Under Point 1.3.1, the report time, this discussion is intended to contribute to
conrms the existence of a national wetlands policy honest and frank debates among scientists, politicians,
but in the additional information the authors state planners and the public, in order to reach a consensus
that there is no specic policy for wetlands. The for the appropriate management of Brazilian
Brazilian Government believes that the best strategy wetlands. These discussions must include: (1) the
for the country is to enforce the existing extensive establishment of a programme and database for a

Copyright # 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Aquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 24: 522 (2014)

Brazilian-wide wetland inventory following international Bigarella JJ. 2001. Contribuio ao Estudo da Plancie
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