Main content area

The paleoecological and paleoenvironmental importance of root traces: Plant distribution and topographic significance of root patterns in Upper Cretaceous paleosols

do Nascimento, Diego Luciano, Batezelli, Alessandro, Ladeira, Francisco Sérgio Bernardes
Catena 2019 v.172 pp. 789-806
Cretaceous period, biomass, dry environmental conditions, ecosystems, floodplains, humidity, landscapes, paleoecology, paleosolic soil types, population distribution, rooting, shrublands, topography, topology, vegetation cover, water table, Brazil
Rhizoliths are organosedimentary structures produced by plants and are an important proxy for paleoenvironmental reconstructions because the differences in the morphology of rhizoliths and their rooting depths can be used to interpret soil humidity regimes, overall biomass at the soil surface, and the behavior of the water table. With the objective of advancing knowledge on rhizoliths, a study was performed on the macromorphological and micromorphological characterizations of the rhizoliths preserved in the thirty-one paleosols of the Marília Formation in Minas Gerais, southeastern Brazil. Based on the topological and architectural attributes of rhizoliths, and on their possible functional adaptations, such as mycorrhizal associations, three different types of rhizoliths are described in this study and represent at least three different plants: rhizohaloes, root casts and rhizocretions. Well-developed paleosols with nodular horizons contain the higher density of long root casts, indicating a seasonally dry environment, because the root casts present two meters in length. These adaptations are associated with an exploitation of a lowered water table during most times of the year. The higher density of rhizoliths indicates an area with agglomerated arboreous arbustive vegetation cover. Paleosols with chalky horizons also show a high density of root casts, indicating a landscape with high plant density that is adapted to drained soils, but with a seasonally elevated water table or the influence of ephemeral flows, given the proximity to the flow channels. The poorly drained paleosols with redoximorphic features show the lowest density of rhizoliths, thus indicating an incipient vegetation in response to near-surface water table and waterlogged soils in a distal floodplain. The rhizogenic laminar horizons have developed near fluvial channels with frequent sedimentary input, resulting in a sequence of laminar horizons composed of rhizocretions that are separated by sandy deposits or poorly developed pedogenic horizons. The micromorphological analysis on the rhizogenic laminar calcretes showed biogenic features, such as alveolar septal structures, calcified filaments, microcodium, calcified cells and pisoliths. Despite the scarce paleobotanical findings in the Marília Formation, the results obtained indicate an ecosystem that was composed of plants varying from herbaceous to arboreous, with an environment similar to modern semiarid shrublands.