The historical ecology of the world’s largest tropical country uniquely chronicled by its municipal coat-of-arms symbology

Juliano André Bogoni, Henrique Villas Boas Concone, Vítor Carvalho-Rocha, Katia M.P.M.B. Ferraz, Carlos A. Peres

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Coats-of-arms representing municipal counties express local patterns of rural economics, natural resource and land use, features of the natural capital, and the cultural heritage of either aborigines or colonists. We reconstruct the subnational economic and political timeline of the world’s largest tropical country using municipal coats-of-arms to reinterpret Brazil’s historical ecology. We assessed all natural resource, biophysical, agricultural, and ethnocultural elements of 5,197 coats-of-arms (93.3%) distributed throughout Brazil. We extracted socioenvironmental co-variables for any municipality to understand and predict the relationships between social inequality, environmental degradation, and the historical ecology symbology. We analyzed data via ecological networks and structural equation models. Our results show that the portfolio of political-administrative symbology in coats-of-arms is an underutilized tool to understand the history of colonization frontiers. Although Brazil is arguably Earth’s most species-rich country, generations of political leaders have historically failed to celebrate this biodiversity, instead prioritizing a symbology depicted by icons of frontier conquest and key natural resources. Brazilian historical ecology reflects the relentless depletion of the natural resource capital while ignoring profound social inequalities. Degradation of natural ecosystems is widespread in Brazilian economy, reflecting a legacy of boom-and-bust rural development that so far has failed to deliver sustainable socioeconomic prosperity.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere20220746
JournalAnais da Academia Brasileira de Ciencias
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • ecological elements
  • fauna
  • flora
  • land use
  • public policy
  • tropical forest

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