Wetlands Ecology and Management

, Volume 20, Issue 6, pp 461–475

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


  • Wolfgang J. Junk
    • Universidade do Amazonas (UEA)
    • Instituto Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia em Áreas Úmidas (INCT-INAU)
  • Maria Teresa Fernandez Piedade
    • Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA)
  • Jochen Schöngart
    • Department of BiogeochemistryMax Planck Institute for Chemistry
    • Department of BiogeochemistryMax Planck Institute for Chemistry
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s11273-012-9268-0

Cite this article as:
Junk, W.J., Piedade, M.T.F., Schöngart, J. et al. Wetlands Ecol Manage (2012) 20: 461. doi:10.1007/s11273-012-9268-0


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 wetlandsAquatic terrestrial transition zoneFunctional unitHigher plantsPaleo-várzeaProductivity

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012