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Southern Plains Biome

Por: invivo

Pampas. Photo: Alex Pereira/Wikipedia

Pampas. Photo: Alex Pereira/Wikipedia

Brazil's Southern Plains biome covers about 170,000 square kilometers (65,000 sq mi) of the state of Rio Grande do Sul. In fact, it extends beyond the country’s borders, into Uruguay and Argentina.

These southern plains are also known as pampas, an indigenous word that means “flat region.” But the pampas are only one part of the Southern Plains biome, which also encompasses higher plains and some areas resembling savannas.


To date, 102 species of mammals, 476 species of birds, and 50 species of fish have been identified in Brazil’s Southern Plains.

Pampas cat (1)

Pampas cat (1)

Just to give you an idea of the fauna living within this biome, we’ll name some of its members. Its mammals include the anteater, crab-eating raccoon, hog-nosed skunk, pampas fox (Pseudalopex gymnocercus), and two other species, both endangered: the pampas cat (Leopardus pajeros) and the maned three-toed sloth. 

The most common birds include the black-necked swan, teal, tinamou, South American lapwing (quero-quero), campo flicker, and burrowing owl, who got its name because it makes its nests in holes dug in the ground.

The 50 species of recorded fish include lambari-listrado and lambari-azul (two species from the genus Astyanax); catfish (tamboatá); surubim (sometimes known as sorubim in English); and the spotted eagle ray.

You’ll find reptiles and insects there too. The reptiles include the turtle known as the tartaruga-verde-e-amarela (literally, the green-and-yellow turtle), a swamp racer known as the jararaca-do-banhado, a green snake known as the cobra-cipó, and Geoffrey's side-necked turtle. Some of the more notable insects are the sirex wood wasp and the well-known codling moth.

Parana pine (2)

Parana pine (2)


The flattest fields in the southern part of Rio Grande do Sul are known as the pampas. This pastoral vegetation spreads out like an immense green carpet. Most species of flora stand one meter tall at most (just over 3 ft). Grasses are common, often transforming fields into immense pasturelands.

Vegetation in the pampas is sparse and not rich in biodiversity, more varied near its highest spots. Plateau slopes are the sites of woods that include large pines and other trees, like cabreuva, grapia, Brazilian caroba, vilco (also known as cebil), and cedar. The Araucaria Woods is found on these high fields, where the main plant form is the Parana pine.

Near the coast, the landscape features grassy marshes where you will find a kind of rush known as juncos, bromeliads called gravatás, and water lilies by the name of aguapés. The most famous marsh is the Taim; in 1998, an ecological station was created to preserve this valuable ecosystem and entrusted to the oversight of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama).

Photo: <A target=_blank href="">Jefferson Dourado </A>/Flickr

Photo: Jefferson Dourado /Flickr


The soil of the pampas is rich, and so these fields are often used for agricultural purposes.The areas with soil known as “terra roxa”—or “red earth”—are even more fertile.

Although soil in the plateau areas also has a reddish cast, it is not as fertile as the true “terra roxa,” or red earth. The soil of the coastland plateau is quite sandy.

Some areas of the pampas are undergoing a process of desertification due to the replacement of native vegetation by monocultures and pastures.

Itaimbezinho canyon (3)

Itaimbezinho canyon (3)


The Southern Plains has a gently rolling topography. Most of the area is flat, with some grassy hills known in that region as coxilhas.

There are some plateaus in addition to the coxilhas. Caves and grottos are common. The Stone of the Secret, in Caçapava do Sul, is 160 meters high (over 500 ft) and has three caves inside.

Uruguay river (4)

Uruguay river (4)


The major rivers of this biome are the Santa Maria, Uruguay, Jacuí, Ibicuí, and Vacacaí. These and the region’s other rivers are part of two hydrographic basins: the Southern Coastal and the Prata. These highly navigable rivers form veritable highways in the region.

Many lakes and lagoons can be found near the coast. Located in the municipality of São Lourenço do Sul, 265-kilometer-long Lagoa dos Patos (165 mi) is the largest lagoon in Brazil and the second largest in South America.


The region has a wet subtropical climate. What does that mean? Well, this means that in the Southern Plains the summers are hot, the winters are cold, and rain falls all year round.

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

When we say “cold winter,” we’re talking about temperatures that may fall below zero degrees Celsius (32oF). When we say “hot summer,” we’re talking about temperatures of up to 35 degrees Celsius (95oF). This region has the biggest thermal amplitude in Brazil—in other words, it’s where the temperature varies the most.

There is no dry season. Frost may occur during cold spells. Did you know that it snows in Brazil? It’s true! When it gets cold, it actually does snow in some spots in southern Brazil.


(1) Photo: Motazzo/Flickr

(2) Photo: Ricardo Frantz/Wikipedia

(3) Photo: Renato A. Costa/Flickr

(4) Photo: Deyvid Setti e Eloy Olindo Setti/Wikipedia

(5) Photo: Ibere Romani/Flickr

Graxaim (5)

Graxaim (5)

Find out more about other Brazilian biomes:

The Amazon biome

The Pantanal biome

The Atlantic Rainforest biome

The Caatinga biome

Cerrado Biome

The Coastal Biome


Vânia Rocha, biologist at Fiocruz’s Museu da Vida (Life Museum).



Ambiente Brasil

Linhares, S. & Gewandsznajder, F. Biologia Hoje - Vol 3. São Paulo: ed. Ática, 1998.

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