The Pantanal is the world’s largest and most biodiverse continental sheet-flow wetland. Recently, vast tracts of the Pantanal have succumbed to the occurrence of fires, raising serious concerns over the future integrity of the biodiversity and ecosystem services of this biome, including revenues from ecotourism. These wildfires degrade the baseline of natural ecosystems and the ecotourism economy across the region. Local residents (“Pantaneiros”) anecdotally state that extensive cattle herbivory can solve the contemporary flammability problem of the Pantanal by controlling vegetation biomass, thereby preventing or reducing both fuel loads and fires across the region. Here, we examine the covariation between the presence and density of cattle and the incidence of fires across the Brazilian Pantanal. Variables assessed included bovine cattle density, SPI (Standardized Precipitation Index), GPP (Gross Primary Productivity)/biomass estimate, and fire foci along a 19-year time series (2001 to 2019). Our findings show that fire foci across the Pantanal biome are related to climatic variables, such as lower annual precipitation and higher annual drought indices (SPI) rather than to cattle stocking rates. Therefore, the notion of “cattle firefighting”, a popular concept often discussed in some academic circles, cannot be validated because cattle numbers are unrelated to aboveground phytomass. Gross primary productivity further invalidated the “cattle herbivory” hypothesis because GPP was found to be strongly correlated with cattle density but not with the spatial distribution of fires. Fires throughout the Pantanal are currently aggravated by the presence of livestock and result from a combination of extreme weather events and outdated agricultural practices.
- gross primary production
- Standardized Precipitation Index