Vegetation change during four decades of management with fire by the Xavante Indians in Central Brazil

Date and Time: 
Friday, 17 May, 2013 - 16:00 to 16:20
WELCH, James R. - Fundação Oswaldo Cruz
COIMBRA JR., Carlos E. A. - Fundação Oswaldo Cruz
BRONDIZIO, Eduardo S. - Indiana University

The Brazilian cerrado, a complex fire-adapted tropical savanna-like biome with enormous biodiversity, is threatened by accelerated conversion to industrial agriculture. Historical documents since the early nineteenth century reveal that collective hunting with fire by the Xavante Indians has long been an important aspect of this group’s landscape management practices. In this paper, we provide an ethnographic account of the Xavante practice of hunting with fire and present evidence from spatial analysis of satellite imagery from 1973 to 2010 comparing vegetational change under management by the Xavante and neighboring agribusiness. We show that Xavante landscape management practices, including hunting with fire, resulted in the greening of areas previously deforested by non-indigenous occupants. Our findings call into question the widespread assumption that the non-alteration of tropical landscapes through the suppression of indigenous anthropogenic fire is a beneficial strategy for reducing deforestation in the cerrado.