Brazil has reduced deforestation in the Amazon by almost 80%, a major contribution to the goals of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Neighbouring Cerrado, a vast tropical savannah that hosts some 4,800 species of plants and vertebrates found nowhere else, has not fared so well.

Our findings show that a severe extinction episode is unfolding in the Cerrado, with plant extinctions projected to be an order of magnitude higher than all global recorded plant extinctions so far — yet in our view, this catastrophe can be avoided (B. B. N. Strassburg et al. Nature Ecol. Evol., in the press).

Public and multi-stakeholder policies that supported Brazil's Amazon success need to be replicated in the Cerrado. For example, the region could be included in the Amazon's soya-bean moratorium and its public protected areas increased from 7.5% of the biome to the nationwide CBD target of 17%. Also, the new Forest Code should be enforced there, and large-scale restoration undertaken to boost and connect habitats that are crucial for endangered species.

These and other policies could transform an impending irreversible extinction episode of global proportions into another immense contribution to national and international goals of safeguarding biodiversity.