, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 253-268

A high resolution Holocene pollen record from Lago do Pires, SE Brazil: vegetation, climate and fire history

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Lago do Pires (17° 57′ S, 42° 13′ W) is situated at 390 m a.s.l. in the foothills of the Serra do Espinhaço, 250 km from the Brazilian Atlantic coast. The original vegetation of the study area has been almost destroyed by pastoral activity. Relicts of a dense 20–30 m tall tropical semidciduous forest are present only on a few hill tops. The dry season of the Lago do Pires region lasts for 4 months and the annual precipitation is 1250 mm. A high resolution pollen record from a 16 m long sediment core, composed of 77 samples, subdivided in 7 zones and 4 subzones, allows a reconstruction of Holocene paleoenvironments. For the early Holocene (9720-8810 B.P.), the results indicate that the region surrounding the lake was dominated by a herb savanna (campo cerrado) withCuratella americana (cerrado tree) and high fire frequency. Species ofCecropia, Urticales and a few others, form small gallery forests along the water courses. This vegetation pattern is consistent with a long dry season (perhaps 6 months) and a low annual precipitation. Between 8810 and 7500 years B.P. gallery forests expanded in the valleys and suggest a period of higher rainfall with shortened dry season (perhaps 5 months). Fire was less frequent. Reduction of gallery forests followed (7500-5530 B.P.), probably related to a return of drier climatic conditions (5–6 months dry season, lower precipitation). Fires were more frequent. Between 5530 and 2780 years B.P. in the vallyes were forests and on the hills still an open cerrado. The dry season probably was about 5 months and the rainfall was higher than in the previous period. Later (2780-970 B.P.) the more open cerrado on the hills changed to more closed cerrado. A dense and closed semideciduous forest existed in the region only in the latest Holocene period (since 970 B.P.) under the current climatic conditions. The vegetation was no longer influenced by fire. A very strong human impact by deforestation and use of fire occurred in the last decades. Today cerrado vegetation is generally restricted to central Brazil and exists in several small isolated ‘Islands’ (Hueck, 1956) in the area of semideciduous forest in SE Brazil which were more widespread during the drier periods of the Holocene. The wettest period of Holocene occurs in the present millenium.

This is the 4th in a series of papers published in this special AMQUA issue. These papers were presented at the 1994 meeting of the American Quaternary Association held 19–22 June, 1994, at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. Dr Linda C. K. Shane served as guest editor for these papers.