Regular Article

Plant and Soil

, Volume 336, Issue 1, pp 3-14

First online:

Deciphering earth mound origins in central Brazil

  • Lucas C. R. SilvaAffiliated withDepartment of Forest Engineering, University of BrasiliaEmbrapa Cerrados Agricultural Research CenterGlobal Ecological Change (GEC) Laboratory, Department of Environmental Biology, University of Guelph Email author 
  • , Gabriel D. ValeAffiliated withLaboratory of Forest Management, National Institute for Research in the Amazon (INPA)
  • , Ricardo F. HaidarAffiliated withDepartment of Forest Engineering, University of Brasília
  • , Leonel da S. L. SternbergAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Miami

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Mound fields are a common landscape throughout the world and much of the evidence for their origin has been of a circumstantial nature. It has been hypothesized that earth mounds emerge over grasslands by termite activity; alternatively, they might be formed after erosion. We tested whether a mound field in central Brazil was generated by termite activity or erosion. We used soil organic matter isotopic composition, soil chemical, physical and floristic composition to determine the origin of a mound field. If the mounds emerged by termite activity in an established grassland the soil organic matter below the mound should have the isotopic signature of C4 dominated grassland, which contrasts with savanna C3 + C4 signature. Additionally, soil traits should resemble those of the grassland. All markers indicate that the mounds were formed by erosion. The soil isotopic composition, chemical traits and texture below the mound resembled those of the savanna and not those of the grassland. Moreover, most of the species present in the mound were typical of savanna. Concrete evidence is provided that mound fields in the studied area were produced by erosion of a savanna ecosystem and not termite activity. The use of the techniques applied here would improve the assessments of whether analogous landscapes are of a biogenic nature or not.


Carbon isotope Soil Erosion Savanna Termites murundus