Plant and Soil

, Volume 333, Issue 1–2, pp 431–442 | Cite as

Not all forests are expanding over central Brazilian savannas

  • Lucas C. R. Silva
  • Mundayatan Haridasan
  • Leonel S. L. Sternberg
  • Augusto C. Franco
  • William A. Hoffmann
Regular Article


Recently we reported on the expansion of riparian forests into savannas in central Brazil. To enlarge the scope of the earlier study we investigated whether upland deciduous and xeromorphic forests behaved similarly. We investigated past vegetation changes that occurred in forest/savanna transitions using carbon isotope ratios (δ13C) measured in the soil organic matter as a tracer. We analyzed the 14C activity where δ13C showed major shifts in vegetation. The role of soil chemical and physical attributes in defining vegetation distribution is discussed. Structural changes in vegetation were found to be associated with shifts in the isotope composition (δ13C) of soil organic matter. This was attributed to intrinsic differences in the biomass of trees and grasses and allowed for the determination of past shifts in vegetation by evaluating δ13C at different depths. The deciduous forest decreased in area approximately 980 years ago. Tree cover increased in the xeromorphic forest, but the border stayed stable through time. The deciduous forest and adjacent savanna have eutrophic soils while the xeromorphic forest and adjacent savanna have dystrophic soils. However, greater organic carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations are observed in the forests. We provide concrete evidence of deciduous forest retreat unlike the stability observed in the xeromorphic forest/savanna boundary. These results contrast with the expansion of riparian forests recently reported in the same region.


Carbon isotopes Cerrado Forest expansion Leaf area index Tropical forests Tropical soils 



We thank Jose´ Carlos Sousa Silva at EMBRAPA Cerrados and Ricardo Flores Haidar, Gabriel Damasco do Vale and Regina Kruse for field assistance and valuable comments. This research is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Grant No. DEB-0542912 (W. H.), AW Mellon Foundation (W. H.) and National Science Foundation Grant No. EAR-BE-332051.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lucas C. R. Silva
    • 1
    • 2
  • Mundayatan Haridasan
    • 3
  • Leonel S. L. Sternberg
    • 4
  • Augusto C. Franco
    • 5
  • William A. Hoffmann
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Forest EngineeringUniversity of Brasilia, Brazil and Embrapa Cerrados Agricultural Research CenterPlanaltinaBrazil
  2. 2.Global Ecological Change (GEC) Laboratory, Department of Environmental BiologyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  3. 3.Department of EcologyUniversity of BrasiliaBrasiliaBrazil
  4. 4.Departmentof BiologyUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA
  5. 5.Department of BotanyUniversity of BrasiliaBrasiliaBrazil
  6. 6.Department of Plant BiologyNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

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