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Soil phytoliths from miombo woodlands in Mozambique

  • Julio Mercader (a1), Tim Bennett (a1), Chris Esselmont (a2), Steven Simpson (a1) and Dale Walde (a1)...


This paper describes topsoil phytolith assemblages from 25 loci underneath miombo woodlands on an eco-transect intersecting the Mozambican Rift along a geographical, altitudinal, climatic and botanical gradient. We provide the first comprehensive overview of the phytolith spectrum that defines northern Mozambique's Zambezian floristic zone. Our classifying criteria derive from comparison with previously described and quantified reference collections of trees and grasses growing in the study area. We characterize the sedimentological and soil features of the matrices where phytoliths are found, establishing correlation among geo-edaphic variables and phytoliths. Descriptive statistics along with nonparametric and parametric statistical analyses evaluate phytolith grouping criteria, variation, robustness, and membership. From a taphonomic perspective, we attest that topsoil phytolith assemblages are polygenic and do not represent an episodic snapshot of extant vegetation, but a palimpsest from plants representing various disturbance episodes, succession stages, and ecological trends. Phytoliths retrieved from Mozambican miombo soils do not seem to trace altitudinal, temperature, or precipitation gradients, and no significant differences exist between highland and lowland phytolith assemblages. This article provides a phytolith analog for woodland environments that can guide future paleoenvironmental research. It also confirms that phytolith analysis is able to detect shifts in the woodland/grassland interface.


Corresponding author

Corresponding author.
E-mail address: (J. Mercader).


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