Matter turnover in the oligotrophic restinga ecosystem and the importance of the key species Clusia hilariana

Abstract: Restingas are sandy areas spread along the Brazilian coast made up of a mosaic of forest and open woodland vegetation adapted to varying conditions of aridity, oligotrophy and salinity. Two vegetation types are very common in southeast Brazilian restingas, open Clusia formations and seasonally dry forest formation. Litter production and nutrient (C and N) turnover were studied comparatively in forest formations and Clusia formations, in vegetation patches with and without Clusia hilariana. The results showed that the breakdown process is extremely retarded in Clusia formations, with or without C. hilariana, leading to C accumulation in the soil. Microbial and soil fauna activity is lower in Clusia formations in comparison to forest formations; patches without Clusia hilariana showed intermediate conditions regarding total matter and carbon loss. Nitrogen loss was lowest in patches without C. hilariana, where soil micro-organisms accumulate N during the decomposition process, such as in the forest. The ratio of lignin in litter and the slow release of N reinforce the importance of the dominant tree Clusia hilariana as a potential key species for organic matter turnover. The accumulation of organic matter under the Clusia formation vegetation may be determinant for the humus richness of some bodies of water in the restinga, demonstrating the importance of this species to the ecosystem.