Brazilian wetlands: their definition, delineation, and classification for research, sustainable management, and protection



  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 definition of a specific wetland policy are twofold: (1) the lack of standardized criteria by which wetlands are defined and delineated that reflects the specific ecological conditions of the country and (2) the lack of a national classification of wetlands that takes into account specific 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 benefits 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 benefits for local populations. Furthermore, Brazilian wetlands contribute significantly 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 definition, delineation, and classification at the national level are proposed in order to establish a scientific basis for discussions on a national wetland policy that mandates the sustainable management of Brazil's extremely diverse and complex wetlands. This goal is particularly urgent in the face of the continuing and 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.