Abstract

Introduction: Studies on how the altitudinal gradient determines community composition and structure in tropical high altitude grasslands are limited. Objective: To evaluate the plant community composition and structure and their relationship with altitude and soil properties along an altitudinal gradient of three granitic rocky outcrops at the Serra do Brigadeiro State Park, Minas Gerais, in southeastern Brazil. Methods: In each selected site, 100 plots of 1 × 1 m were established, totalizing 300 plots in the study area. We compared floristic composition, relative coverage and abundance among sites. We performed beta diversity analysis. We also performed an indicator species analysis and a canonical correlation analysis to investigate possible relations between abiotic (soil and altitude) and biotic (indicator species abundances) variables. Results: We sampled a total of 9 276 individuals belonging to 39 families and 102 species. Significant differences were observed among sites regarding composition, abundance and coverage. The indicator species analysis revealed that 57 species (55.88 %) were indicators. The distribution of indicator species abundances was correlated with environmental variables. Conclusions: It was observed that altitude and soil play an important role in controlling community composition and structure, beta diversity and species distribution in the highland grasslands studied.

Keywords: indicator species, mountain vegetation, rocky outcrops, plant coverage, soil-vegetation relationship