Original Paper

Wetlands Ecology and Management

, Volume 20, Issue 6, pp 461-475

First online:

A classification of major natural habitats of Amazonian white-water river floodplains (várzeas)

  • Wolfgang J. JunkAffiliated withUniversidade do Amazonas (UEA)Instituto Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia em Áreas Úmidas (INCT-INAU)
  • , Maria Teresa Fernandez PiedadeAffiliated withInstituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA)
  • , Jochen SchöngartAffiliated withDepartment of Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry
  • , Florian WittmannAffiliated withDepartment of Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry Email author 

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Most countries sharing the Amazon basin have signed the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance but still lack complete wetland inventories, classification systems, and management plans. Amazonian wetlands vary considerably with respect to hydrology, water and soil fertility, vegetation cover, diversity in plant and animal species and primary and secondary productivity. Here, we propose a classification system of major natural habitats of Amazonian white-water river floodplains (várzeas) based on hydrological, water and soil chemistry and biological parameters. The Amazonian várzea is one of the largest Amazonian wetlands. It is exceptionally rich in plant and animal species and plays important roles in landscape history, evolution, hydrology and biogeochemical cycles of the Amazon basin. Most of Amazonia’s rural population lives in or along the várzea, emphasizing the economic importance of its natural resources. Our classification indicates five major systems, which are subdivided into 10 main habitats and up to 40 functional (vegetation) units of which the most important mesohabitats are described. We understand this classification as a dynamic system, as it is open to the inclusion of future research attempts and habitats without affecting the entire classification system. Our classification may be used for scientific purposes, such as comparative studies on biomass, productivity, biogeochemical cycles and biodiversity. Also, because the classification builds on habitat types and/or vegetation and functional units already distinguished by the local population it may be especially useful in guiding intelligent use of várzea habitat for specific management activities, such as agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry, fisheries, and conservation.


Amazonian wetlands Aquatic terrestrial transition zone Functional unit Higher plants Paleo-várzea Productivity