Root specializations enable plants to live in impoverished environments like Brazil’s rupestrian grasslands
Typical rupestrian grassland landscape in the Canastra Mountains – Foto © Rafael Oliveira
When they went off to the Serra do Cabral Mountains in the state of Minas Gerais to examine the vegetation with a botanist’s eye, biologist Rafael Oliveira of the University of Campinas (Unicamp) and his students were prepared for surprises. In this environment, where plants grow on rocks or in the midst of sand so white it looks like salt—hence known as rupestrian grassland (campo rupestre)—it is surprising that they find ways to survive. But they succeed, thanks to an arsenal of tricks that researchers have only just begun to identify. And the variety of tricks is surprising as well. A yet-to-be-published survey headed by biologist Fernando Silveira of the Federal University of Minas Gerais estimates that there are some 11,000 species (one-third of Brazil’s plant biodiversity) in an area that makes up less than 1% of the country’s landmass, scattered mainly throughout the Serra do Espinhaço Mountains. “We are still a long way from understanding the evolutionary mechanisms that generate and maintain such diversity,” says Oliveira, who participated in the survey. Read more.