The Impacts of Climate Change on Mauritia Felxuosa and Biodiversity in Neotropical Cerrãdo Savanna Ecosystems

Monday, 15 December 2014
Shira Yoshimi Maezumi1, Mitchell James Power1, Frank Mayle2 and Jose Luis Iriarte3, (1)University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, United States, (2)University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom, (3)University of Exeter, Exeter, United Kingdom
Mauritia flexuosa is one of the most widely distributed palms in the Neotropics. They are found in in warm, wet lowland environments ranging from dense tropical rainforests to monospecific communities restricted to flooded drainage basins. The monospecific stands of M. flexuosa communities provide structural complexity and habitat diversity for unique terrestrial and aquatic flora and fauna. These communities contribute to enhanced Neotropical diversity from both a taxonomic (α- diversity) and landscape (β-diversity) perspective. Conservation plans have begun to target M. flexuosa palm wetlands as potential refugia and their role in protection of watersheds. However, the long-term development and evolution of these systems is poorly understood. Numerous paleoecological studies from Amazonia suggest that the present day species distribution of M. flexuosa underwent a dramatic increase during the Late Holocene (after ca. 3000 cal yr. BP) that is often coupled with an increased in charcoal accumulation. Some researchers have interpreted these data as evidence for extensive human landscape modification. However, archaeological evidence supporting human landscape modification of M. flexuosa habitats is lacking. To investigate the long-term development of M. flexuosa, a 15,000-year high-resolution sedimentary record was analyzed for charcoal, phytolith and isotope data from Huanchaca Mesetta, Bolivia. To date, there is no evidence for human modification on the plateau, thus this records provides a control study to investigate the role of natural climate variability in the evolution of M. flexuosa communities. Increased insolation driven by Milankovitch precessional forcing resulted in an expansion of the South American Summer Monsoon, increased precipitation and a lengthening of the wet season, supporting the establishment of the modern palm swamp vegetation after 5,000 cal yr BP. Increased charcoal accumulation is likely associated with increased lightning ignitions that accompanied the expanded SASM. The paleofire and vegetation history from Huanchaca Mesetta provides conservationists, land-managers, and policy makers a context for understanding ecological response of M. flexuosa communities to increased warmth and drought stress expected for the 21st century.