Evidence of shift in C4 species range in central Argentina during the late Holocene

Plant and Soil
By: , and 




Millennial-scale biogeographic changes are well understood in many parts of the world, but little is known about long-term vegetation dynamics in subtropical regions. Here we investigate shifts in C3/C4 plant abundance occurred in central Argentina during the past few millennia


We determined present day soil organic matter δ13C signatures of grasslands, shrublands and woodlands, containing different mixtures of C3 and C4 plants. We measured past changes in the relative cover of C3/C4 plants by comparing δ13C values in soil profiles with present day δ13C signatures. We analyzed 14C activity in soil depths that showed major changes in vegetation.


Present day relative cover of C3/C4 plants determines whole ecosystem δ13C signatures integrated as litter and superficial soil organic matter (R2 = 0.78; p < 0.01). Deeper soils show a consistent shift in δ13C, indicating a continuous replacement of C4 by C3 plants since 3,870 (±210) YBP. During this period, the relative abundance of C3 plants increased 32% (average across sites) with significant changes being observed in all studied ecosystems.


Our results show that C4 species were more abundant in the past, but C3 species became dominant during the late Holocene. We identified increases in the relative C3/C4 cover in grasslands, shrublands and woodlands, suggesting a physiological basis for changes in vegetation. The replacement of C4 by C3 plants coincided with changes in climate towards colder and wetter conditions and could represent a climatically driven shift in the C4 species optimum range.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Evidence of shift in C4 species range in central Argentina during the late Holocene
Series title Plant and Soil
DOI 10.1007/s11104-011-0868-x
Volume 349
Issue 1-2
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center
Description 19 p.
First page 261
Last page 279
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