Species composition and biogeographic relations of the rock outcrop flora on the high plateau of Itatiaia, SE-Brazil

Composição de espécies e relações biogeográficas da flora sobre afloramentos rochosos no Planalto do Itatiaia, SE do Brasil

We studied the flora of vegetation islands on rock outcrops on the Itatiaia Plateau (22°21'S and 44°40'W), at 2,400 m.a.s.l. A total of 114 vascular plant species, which correspond to ca. 20%-25% of the currently inventoried flora of the plateau, were sampled in 197 small vegetation islands (total area of 0.034 ha). Xerophytes and hydrophytes were often found side by side due to environmental heterogeneity at a small scale, explaining in part the high species diversity. Rock outcrops may support floras quite distinct from those in neighbouring habitats, due to the action of strong environmental filters, but in Itatiaia the geographic distribution patterns among rupicolous plants appear to mimic those described for the whole flora around it, with 15.1% of narrow endemic species and six strictly rupicolous plants. Underlining the "temperate" nature of the high elevation climate in Itatiaia, the sampled flora was dominated by species of the families Asteraceae and Poaceae, and the number of CAM (crassulacean acid metabolism) species was very low. A few endemic species of tropical origin - Pleurostima gounelleana (Beauv.) Men. (Velloziaceae) and Fernseea itatiaiae (Wawra) Baker (Bromeliaceae) - play a crucial role in this vegetation, as pioneer mat-formers facilitating later establishment of numerous other species. Hemicryptophytes prevail in the sampled flora, while therophytes are exceptionally rare and mainly consist of opportunistic species associated with disturbances. Numerous microhabitats and strong environmental gradients in these high elevation rock outcrops afford opportunities for establishment of a highly diversified flora. These island-like environments may represent an important refuge for grassland species from fire and other disturbances in the surrounding grasslands.

Atlantic rain forest; biogeography; "campos de altitude"; endemisms; rock outcrops; rupicolous plants


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