, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 83-96,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 30 Sep 2010

Poaceae pollen grain size as a tool to distinguish past grasslands in South America: a new methodological approach


Despite the dominance of grasslands during the last glacial period, especially in South America, the highly uniform morphology of Poaceae pollen grains has so far allowed only very few palynological studies based on Poaceae pollen. In our study we compare two methods of distinguishing between South American grassland ecosystems based on quantitative morphology of Poaceae pollen grains. We investigated data sets from Páramo in southern Ecuador, Campos de Altitude and Campos in south-eastern and southern Brazil as well as data sets from the Pampa in Argentina by measuring the pollen grain length, grain width, pore diameter and annulus width. Firstly we investigated the potential influence of chemical treatment of pollen grains on pollen grain size as well as the measurement setting for defining the boundary conditions for using Poaceae pollen grains in a palaeoecological investigation. Finally the measured pollen grain parameters were analyzed by comparison of average grain length using statistical tests. This approach reveals highly significant differences in average grain size between all grassland ecosystems. Assuming that a certain grain size range can be assigned to a certain Poaceae taxon, conclusions about differences and similarities in taxa composition can be derived. We used two methods of multivariate data analysis. One uses the pollen grain parameters directly for a Principle Component Analysis (PCA). The other is an already established method in grassland ecology which defines parameter based pollen grain types to investigate similarities between grassland ecosystems. Both approaches confirm the results of the grain length analysis. In this work we demonstrate that the method we developed has the potential to provide acquisition of so far inaccessible information on spatial and temporal patterns and dynamics of South American grasslands.

Communicated by A.F. Lotter.