The organic matter dynamics in Atlantic forest ecosystems must be understood to ensure the efficiency of conservation programs. Chemical characteristics of humic substances are important because they reflect the soil genesis processes and soil management, and can be used as indicator of the organic matter quality. The purpose of this study was to test the organic matter quality as a marker of the soil environment in areas of native Atlantic forest developed on a distrophyc Gleysol and a distrophyc Cambisol and in abandoned plantations of eucalyptus of different ages, at the União Biological Reserve, RJ, Brazil. The distribution of the humified fractions of the soil organic matter and humic acids were evaluated by chemical and spectroscopic methods, in two soil layers (0-0.10 and 0.10-0.20 m). Soil fertility of the Biological Reserve was very low, representing a limiting factor for the humification process. Humic substances represented less than 50 % of the oxidized carbon, indicating that most of the organic matter consists of non-humic substances. Consequently, forest litterfall plays a central role in the plant/microorganism nutrition. The relative distribution of the humic fraction was not altered by the plant cover or soil class. The chemical nature of the humic acids was similar to fulvic acids. These characteristics were expressed by a low carbon content, high H/C and O/C ratios and high acidity values which resulted in humified material with low chemical evolution. Infrared spectroscopy indicated the effect of the soil class and plant cover on the chemical quality of the humic acids. The fluorescence intensity of humified material isolated from the Atlantic forest area was high, suggesting higher lability and capacity to release electrons for chemical reactions in the soil.
humic substances; fertility; forest soil; tropical soils