Paleoenvironmental Characterization of a High-Mountain Environment in the Atlantic Forest in Southeastern Brazil
Records of changes in the phytosociological structure of vegetation can be observed more clearly in soils that have more significant accumulation of organic matter, like those occurring in high-mountain environments. The aim of this study was to characterize soils formed in high-mountain environments in the Itatiaia National Park (INP), state of Rio de Janeiro, southeastern Brazil, and to discuss the potential of preserved phytoliths as markers of vegetative history and environmental factors. Four profiles were selected, which were morphologically described and evaluated for their physical and chemical properties. For phytolith analysis and high-resolution determination of the stable carbon isotopes, samples were collected at 0.10 m intervals. The profiles showed highly similar morphological characteristics, with peat deposits and colluvial sediments as source material, produced in the highest parts of the landscape. High-mountain soils in the INP have properties related to high contents of organic matter, like high acidity, low base saturation, and high CEC values due to high H+ contents. The soils are formed by the addition of plant residues, which accumulate due to the cold and humid climate during most of the year in these environments. The phytolith assemblage had a high frequency of morphotypes characteristic of temperate, cold, and high elevation intertropical regions, especially of Pooideae plants. The phytolith indexes indicated open vegetation environments with a predominance of C3 grasses, suggesting cold climate conditions, and corroborating the δ13C isotopic values. The results of phytolith analysis of the profiles reflected characteristics related to soil genesis. Organism is the main soil formation factor, conditioned by the factors relief (elevation) and climate, which resulted in low temperatures and lead organic matter accumulation.