Infobox World Heritage Site
WHS = Pantanal Conservation Area

State Party = BRA
Type = Natural
Criteria = vii, ix, x
ID = 999
Region = Latin America
Year = 2000
Session = 24th
Link =

The Pantanal is a tropical wetland in South America, mostly within the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, and also portions in Bolivia and Paraguay. It is an area consisting of a variety of floodplain sub-regions, each with distinct hydrological, geological and ecological characteristics; in fact, up to twelve of these hydrological ecosystems have been defined (RADAMBRASIL 1982 cite book
author = McClain, Michael E.
year = 2002
title = The Ecohydrology of South American Rivers and Wetlands
url =
publisher = International Association of Hydrological Sciences
isbn = 1901502023
accessdate = 2008-08-31
] ). In total the Pantanal covers between 140,000 km² to km2 to mi2|195000|precision=-3 Susan Mcgrath, photo's by Joel Sartore, "Brazil's Wild Wet", National Geographic Magazine, August 2005] , making it the 6th largest wetland in the world.cite book
author = Keddy, Paul
coauthor = Fraser, Lauchlan
year = 2005
title = The World’s Largest Wetlands: Ecology and Conservation
url =,M1
publisher = Cambridge University Press
accessdate = 2008-08-31
] cite web
title="Pantanal, the world's largest wetland, disappearing finds new report" |accessdate=2006-01-10
author=Rhett A. Butler
] cite web
title="The World's largest wetland"
publisher=The Nature Conservancy

Over 80% of the Pantanal floodplains are submerged during the rainy seasons, nurturing one of the world's most biologically diverse collection of aquatic plants. It is also dense in faunal species. It is often overshadowed by the proximal Amazon Rainforest but is an equally important eco-region.

The name "Pantanal" stems from the Portuguese word "pântano" which is synonymous with "wetland", "bog", "swamp" or "marsh". In comparison, the Brazilian uplands are locally referred to as the "planalto", "plateau" or, literally, "high plain".

Ecology and Hydrology

Floodplain ecosystems such as the Pantanal are defined by their seasonal inundation and dessication. They shift between phases of standing water and phases of dry soil, when the water table can be well below the root region. Soils range from high levels of sand in higher areas to higher amounts of clay and silt in riverine areas.

Elevation of the Pantanal ranges from 80m to 150m above sea-level. Annual rainfall over the flood basin is between 1000mm to 1500mm with most rainfall occurring between November and March (Cadavid Garcia & Castro 1986, in ). In the Paraguay River portion of the Pantanal water levels rise between two meters to five meters seasonally; water fluctuations in other parts of the Pantanal are less than this. Flood waters tend to flow slowly (2cm s-1 to 10cm s-1: Hamilton "et al". 1995, in ) due to the low gradients and high resistance offered by the dense vegetation.

When rising river waters first contacts previously dry soil the waters become oxygen-depleted, rendering the water environs anoxic. Many natural fish kills can occur if there are no oxygenated water refugees available (the reason for this remains speculative: it may be due to the growth of toxin-producing bacteria in the de-oxygenated water rather than as a direct result of lack of oxygen (McClain 2002)).


The Pantanal is a huge gently-sloped basin that receives runoff from the upland areas (the Planalto highlands) and slowly releases the water through the Paraguay River and tributaries. The formation is a result of the large concave pre-Andean depression of the earth’s crust, related to the Andean orogeny of the Tertiary. It constitutes an enormous internal river delta, in which several rivers flowing from the surrounding plateau merge, depositing their sediments and erosion residues, which have been filling, throughout the years, the large depression area of the Pantanal. This area is also one of the distinct physiographic provinces of the larger Parana-Paraguay Plain area.

The Pantanal is bounded by the Chiquitano dry forests to the west and northwest, by the Arid Chaco dry forests to the southwest, and the Humid Chaco to the south. The Cerrado savannas lie to the north, east, and southeast.The Pantanal has an average yearly rainfall of 1,000-1,400 mm (40-55 in), but is fed by the upper Paraguay River. Its average temperature is C to F|25|precision=0, but temperatures can fluctuate from 0 to 40 °C (32 to 104 °F).

During the rainy season the water in the Pantanal basin rises between two and five meters. Just as the Nile delta is fertile farmable land, so to is the Pantanal plains. the dramatic increase of water during the rainy season nourishes the producers of Pantanal, which in turn nourishes all the other species as well. Humans have taken advantage of this so much that it has become a problem.


The vegetation of the Pantanal is often referred to as the "Pantanal complex" and is a mixture of plant communities typical of a variety of surrounding biome regions: these include moist tropical Amazonian rainforest plants, semi-arid woodland plants typical of northeast Brazil, Brazilian "cerrado" savanna plants and plants of the "Chaco" savannas of Bolivia and Paraguay . Forests usually occur at higher altitudes of the region, while grasslands cover the seasonally inundated areas. The key limiting factors for growth are inundation and, even more importantly, water-stress during the dry season. The Pantanal ecosystem is home to 3500 known plant species Fact|date=August 2008.


The Pantanal ecosystem is also thought to be home to 1000 bird species, 400 fish species (including the "piranha"), 300 mammalian species (including the "capybara") and 480 reptile species.

The rarest animals to inhabit the wetland of the Pantanal are the marsh deer ("Blastocerus dichotomus") and the giant river otter ("Pteroneura brasiliensis"). Parts of the Pantanal are also home to the following endangered or threatened species: the hyacinth macaw ("Anodorhyncus hyacinthinus") (a bird endangered due smuggling), the crowned solitary eagle, the jaguar ("Panthera onca"), the maned wolf ("Chrysocyon brachyurus"), the bush dog, the giant armadillo, the capybara ("Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris"), the Brazilian tapir ("Tapirus terrestris"), the giant anteater ("Myrmecophaga tridactyla") and the Paraguayan caiman ("Caiman crocodilus yacare").

The majority of the biomass of fish species in the Paraguay-Parana river system generally comprise of a few species whose mode of feeding is classed as "dentrivory". "Dentrivores" primarily ingest fine particles from sediments and plant surfaces. This is characteristic of fish living in South American flood-plains in general. Fish migration between river channels and flood-plain regions occurs seasonally. These fish have many adaptations which allow them to survive in the oxygen-deleted flood-plain waters.

In addition to the caiman, the following reptiles inhabit the Pantanal: the anaconda ("Eunectes notaeus"), the tebu lizard ("Tupinambis teguixin"), the jabuti tortoise ("Geochelone sp".) and the iguana ("Iguana Iguana").

Threats to the Pantanal

The Pantanal region includes essential sanctuaries for migratory birds, critical nursery grounds for aquatic life, and refuges for such creatures as the black caiman, deer, and jaguar.

The main human activities which threaten the Pantanal ecosystems are:
* Commercial fishing
** Fishing is focussed on only a few species and is probably not sustainable.
* National and international sport fishing
** The Paraguay river and its tributaries are the main focus for fishing activities.
* Cattle-ranching
** Approximately 99% of the land in the Pantanal is privately owned for the purpose of agriculture and ranching Fact|date=August 2008.
** There are 2500 "fazendas" in the region and up to eight million cattle. [cite web
title="Pantanal - Brazil's undiscovered wilderness"
author=Araras Eco Lodge
publisher=Ladatco Tours
** Erosion and sedimentation caused by this activity alter the soil and hydrological characteristics of Pantanal flood-plain ecosystems with the consequence that native species are threatened by the change in ecosystem variables.
* Hunting and smuggling of endangered species
** Reptile, wild cat and parrot species are particularly at risk from the smuggling industry due to their high value on the black market.
* Uncontrolled tourism and "eco-tourism"
* Deforestation
** Deforestation is more relevant to elevated areas of the Pantanal which contain forest stands than low-land grassy areas.
** Silt run-off from deforested highlands alters soil hydrology and is a significant threat to the Pantanalcite book
author = Willink, Philip W.
year = 2000
title = A Biological Assessment of the Aquatic Ecosystems of the Pantanal
url =
publisher = University of Texas
accessdate = 2008-08-31
] .
* Mercury pollution from gold mining operations
** The Pantanal is a natural water treatment system as it removes chemicals, including pollutants, from water. However, over-pollution from industrial development (especially gold mining) can harm native flora and fauna.
* Pollution from agro-industrial plants
** However, water quality in the Pantanal was not significantly impacted as of 2002.
** Recent high flooding has caused inundation of cultivated areas surrounding the park. The receding flood waters carried large amounts of pesticides back into the rivers and lakes, killing a great number of fish Fact|date=January 2007.
* Pollution from sewage systems
* Development of land for transport (shipping canals and raised roads)
** The proposed plan to dredge the Paraguay and Parana Rivers to allow ocean-going ships to travel further inland is of particular concern and could affect the hydrology (flooding and drainage cycles) of the region, and therefore impact the ecosystemFact|date=August 2008.

Protected areas

Pantanal Matogrossense National Park

A portion of the Pantanal in Brazil has been protected as the Pantanal Matogrossense National Park. This km2 to mi2|1350|precision=-1|abbr=yes park was established in September 1981. It is located in the municipality of Poconé in the State of Mato Grosso, between the mouths of the Bahía de Sao Marcos and the Gurupi River.

This park has been designated a Ramsar Site of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention since May 24, 1993.

ESC Pantanal Private Natural Heritage Reserve

The SESC Pantanal Private Natural Heritage Reserve ("Reserva Particular do Patrimonio Natural SESC Pantanal") is a privately owned reserve in Brazil, established in 1998 and km2 to mi2|878.7|abbr=yes in size. It is located in the north-eastern portion, known as "Poconé" Pantanal, not far from the Pantanal National Park. It is a mix of permanent rivers, seasonal streams, permanent and seasonal floodplain freshwater lakes, shrub dominated wetlands and seasonally flooded forests. Despite being privately owned, the reserve is currently entirely and exclusively dedicated to nature preservation.

This park has also been designated a Ramsar Site of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Main cities located inside the Pantanal

*Barão de Melgaço;

In fiction

*Large parts of John Grisham's novel "The Testament" take place in the Pantanal.
*"Pantanal" is the title of a Brazilian-produced telenovela whose setting is the Brazilian Pantanal.


External links

* [ Expedition to the Pantanal]
* [ The WWF ecoregion profile]
* [ World Conference on Preservation and Sustainable Development in the Pantanal]
* [ Ramsar Convention - Pantanal National Park Information Sheet]
* [ Ramsar Convention - Pantanal Private Reserve Information Sheet]
* [ Pressure on the Pantanal] article discussing development pressure on the Pantanal by Roderick Eime
* [,8922,1566367,00.html Brazil's other great wilderness] Guardian travel article, September 10, 2005.
* [ World's largest wetland under threat] Planet Ark article, January 13, 2006
* [ A Pantanal Bird List]

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