Phytoliths in the Flora of Ecuador Project: updates!

Phytoliths in the Flora of Ecuador Project: updates!

The Phytoliths in the Flora of Ecuador project was undertaken by Deborah M. Pearsall and colleagues from 1997 to 2008, with periodic work through 2012, to establish diagnostic phytolith types and phytolith vegetation signatures to enhance archaeological and paleoenvironmental phytolith applications in coastal and Amazonian Ecuador. Research was conducted in Ecuador and at the University of Missouri (MU) Paleoethnobotany Laboratory. Outcomes or products of the project include: descriptions and images of diagnostic phytoliths in a searchable, on-line database; tables of phytolith production/non-production in plant taxa studied during the project; and establishment of phytolith analogs for four forest formations of lowland Ecuador. Phytolith images and descriptions, as well as tables of phytolith production patterns, may be found at the website

Newest contribution: “Establishing phytolith analogs for four forest formations of lowland Ecuador: Results and applications to archaeological and paleoenvironmental interpretation.” 2021. Deborah M. Pearsall, Meghann O’Brien, Robert A. Benfer, Robin Kennedy. Report and full data tables are posted on tDAR (The Digital Archaeological Record):

Summary: As part of the Phytoliths in the Flora of Ecuador Project (PFE), phytolith assemblages from 82 surface soil samples from four distinctive vegetation formations, xerophytic coastal forest (Chanduy valley), mixed deciduous/evergreen forest (Jama region), coastal evergreen forest (Bilsa Biological Reserve), and Amazonian lowland forest (Jatun Sacha Biological Reserve) were studied, with the goal of establishing phytolith vegetation signatures to facilitate archaeological and paleoenvironmental phytolith interpretation. Proportions of diagnostic phytoliths were examined for each locality, separately, and phytolith patterning within the combined data set, i.e., all individual soil samples considered together, was explored through multivariate statistical analysis. Comparison of coastal (Bilsa) and Amazonian (Jatun Sacha) evergreen forests shows they cannot be distinguished using commonly occurring phytoliths and the rarer forms included in our study. Phytoliths are robust for identifying the evergreen forest biome. Comparison of xerophytic forest (Chanduy), dry (mixed deciduous/evergreen) forest (Jama), and moist forest of the coastal plain (Bilsa) reveals distinctive differences among these forests. Potential applications of our results include investigating the distribution of dry tropical forests in the past, identifying changes in moisture regimes over time, and tracking human impacts on different types of vegetation.

Chanduy area with rainy season growth (left) and Jama area human impacted forest (right)


Categories: Research activity

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