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Geological and Paleontological Sites of Brazil - 094



Mário Sérgio de Melo
UEPG - Praça Santos Andrade s/n - CEP 84010-970 - Ponta Grossa, PR

© Melo,m.s. 2000. Guartelá Canyon. In: Schobbenhaus,C.; Campos,D.A.; Queiroz,E.T.; Winge,M.; Berbert-Born,M. (Edit.) Sítios Geológicos e Paleontológicos do Brasil. Published 22/1/2000 on Internet at the address [Actually]


(The above bibliographic reference of author copy rights is required for any use of this article in any media, being forbidden the use for any commercial purpose)

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The Guartelá Canyon is a rectilinear gorge with an extension of approximately 30 km and a maximum depth of 450 meters. It was carved out by the River Iapó, which uses the canyon to overcome the Devonian Escarpment, a cuesta that separates the First and Second Paraná Plateaux. The River Iapó is a right bank affluent of the River Tibagi, which flows into the Paranapanema River, part of the Paraná River basin. The Iapó is an impressive example of an antecedent river, which has its source on the First Paraná Plateau to the east, breaks the Devonian Escarpment via the Guartelá Canyon, and advances to the west-northwest. The Canyon is controlled by long ruptile structures (faults, fractures), sometimes with intrusive diabase dykes and related rocks, in a NW-SE direction, connected to the Ponta Grossa Arch, reactivated in the Mesozoic period. The Guartelá Canyon escarpments are supported by the Furnas Sandstone (Devonian of the Paraná Basin), whose excellent exposure enables it to be subdivided into three sub-units with distinctive characteristics. Under the Furnas Sandstone, the Iapó Formation (Silurian, basal unit of the Paraná Basin region) and the Castro Group (volcano-sedimentary sequence of the Ordovician period) appear. The River Iapó flows over these rocks, forming many waterfalls and stretches of white water. The Furnas Sandstone presents considerable differential erosion, controlled by the change in rock attributes, sedimentary and ruptile structures, causing a bizarre ruiniform relief. Caves formed by the Castro Group (Gruta da Pedra Ume) and many caves of the Furnas Sandstone forming natural shelters where cave paintings, lithic artefacts and ceramic remains of paleoindians are found, occur in this region. As well as this, the poor, shallow soil of the Furnas Sandstone and the cuesta relief barrier have favoured the preservation of remains of scrubland (savanna), a form of vegetation formerly widespread in the region.


The Canyon of Guartelá is situated in the centre-east region of the State of Paraná (Fig. 1), extending for approximately 30 km between the municipalities of Castro and Tibagi, with the centre located on the coordinates 24° 32´S and 50° 17´W.

The State Park of Guartelá is situated in the central portion of the Canyon. It is located approximately 203 km northwest of Curitiba, and is reached by following the BR-376 highway as far as Ponta Grossa (115 km), then the PR-151 to Castro (45 km), and finally the PR-340 (Castro-Tibagi) for 42 km until the park entrance is reached.

The canyon is approximately rectilinear, controlled by geological structures (fractures, faults, dykes) in a NW-SE direction. It marks the breaching of the Devonian Escarpment by the River Iapó, which comes from the First Paraná Plateau to the southeast, and cuts through the escarpment in a long, deep gorge to reach the Second Plateau, to the Northeast.

The top of the Devonian Escarpment, a typical cuesta relief only locally controlled by ruptile structures, corresponds to the region of the Campos Gerais of Paraná (Fig. 1), a phytogeographic zone marked by the presence of shallow soil with low fertility derived from sandstone, with a vegetation of open grassland (MAACK 1948).


Before European colonisation, the region of the River Iapó canyon was inhabited by the caingang Indians, a branch of the Tupi-Guarani nation (LANGE 1994). The many remains left by the passage of the Indians through the region indicate they were groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers (CHMYZ 1976, PROUS 1992, SCHIMITZ 1997, SILVA 1999), who moved about in search of food or following the old Peabirú trail between the coast and the interior or vice-versa.

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Fig. 1 - Location of the Guartelá Canyon in the State of Paraná. 1: Serra Geral Escarpment; 2: Devonian Escarpment; 3: Campos Gerais Region; 4: Guartelá Canyon; 5: approximate position of the axis of the Ponta Grossa Arch (based on MAACK 1948 and 1981, MINEROPAR 1989).

From the 18th century onwards, with the movement of mule caravans and cattle from the state of Rio Grande do Sul to the markets in the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais, the grasslands of the Campos Gerais became very sought after. At that time, the Portuguese throne began issuing property letters to men with local political prestige. In 1725 the land between the Iapó and Pitangui rivers, including the site corresponding to Guartelá today, was delegated to José de Góes Moraes, Bartolomeu Paes de Abreu e Antonio Pinto Guedes (LANGE 1994). The period of the mule caravans, which lasted until the beginning of the 20th century, still has a great influence on the culture and customs of the Campos Gerais of Paraná and the Guartelá region, whose population retains many habits inherited from the mule-drivers, mostly of Gaúcho origin.

In his travels through the south of Brazil at the beginning of 1820, SAINT-HILAIRE (1978) referred to a "farm called Guartelá" located near the mouth of the River Iapó, proving that the name was already being used in those days. The most widely accepted version of the origin of the name "Guartelá" is that an inhabitant of the region tried to protect a neighbour from the imminent attack of the caingang Indians by giving the warning "Guarda-te lá que aqui bem fico", from which the word Guartelá is derived (LANGE 1994).

More recently, Guartelá has become a region of smallholdings, where an extensive cattle raising is the principal means of subsistence. In the last decades the canyon has received an increasing number of visitors keen on ecological activities, which led the Government of the State of Paraná to establish the State Park of Guartelá, by Decree n° . 1229 of 27/03/92, which had as its aims: a) to guarantee the preservation of local ecosystems, sites of exceptional scenic beauty, such as canyons and waterfalls, as well as important speleological, archaeological and pre-historic sites, especially cave paintings; b) the conservation of the Araucária forest; c) preservation of springs; d) protection of the native fauna and flora; e) regulation of tourism in areas potentially suitable for visiting; f) preservation of archaeological sites (DIEDRICHS 1995, ROCHA 1997).

The park was only properly established in the spring of 1997, with an area of 789.9 ha on the left bank of the River Iapó. Administrated by the IAP (Environmental Institute of Paraná), the park has a reception area for visitors, a campsite, facilities for research, and sign posted trails. The Ecological Reserve of Itaytyba, created in 1997 with 1,090 ha, is being set up on the right bank of the River Iapó as a ‘natural private patrimony reserve’ (RPPN), on privately owned land (MACHADO 1999).

Description of the Site

The Guartelá Canyon is a unique site, because of its impressive and diversified features: remarkable geomorphology, with gorges and rocky escarpments, ruiniform relief, waterfalls and rocky-floor creeks; exceptional Furnas Sandstone exposure, allowing a detailed faciology and subdividing it stratigraphically; close relief control by ruptile structures linked to the Ponta Grossa Arch; existence of caves, some with archaeological material; coexistence of various ecosystems (grasslands, savanna, araucaria forest), that reflect the different paleoclimatic conditions, with native species of fauna and flora that are in danger of extinction outside preservation areas.


The Guartelá is a breach of the Devonian Escarpment, a cuesta relief, by the River Iapó, an antecedent river which must have originated in the Jurassic period, at the time of the last great uplift of the Ponta Grossa Arch (Fig. 2). The canyon is one more important feature in the relief of the State of Paraná resulting from the reactivation of this upward movement in the Mesozoic. The others are escalating erosive plateaux, the Devonian Escarpment and the dyke swarms that support long crests in the NW-SE direction, parallel to the arch axis.

The River Iapó has its sources on the First Paraná Plateau, east of Guartelá. Before flowing into the canyon, the river meanders across an extensive floodplain with vast alluvial deposits, above which Castro is situated. The name Iapó came from this characteristic, in the indigenous language meaning " the river that floods" (LANGE 1994).

The drainage pattern in the region of the Guartelá Canyon is clearly rectangular with the longer rectilinear stretches going NW-SE. The canyon is, in fact, a succession of main rectilinear stretches in a NW-SE direction, linked by shorter stretches lying NE-SW (Fig. 3).

The bed of the River Iapó near Castro, upstream from the Canyon, is approximately 980 m above sea level, whereas near Tibagi, the lowest point of the canyon, it is 760 m above sea level. The highest point of the Devonian Escarpment near Guartelá is 1,279 m. In the State Park region the altitudes difference between the riverbed and the top of the escarpment is 400 m.

The ruptile structures (faults, fractures and associated dykes), the different lithotypes of the Furnas Sandstone, as well as the sedimentary structures (planar and cross-bedding stratifications) contribute to the bizarre formations sculptured by weathering agents (Figs. 4 and 5), giving rise to characteristic ruiniform relief (AB´SÁBER 1977, MELO & COIMBRA 1996). Rainwater infiltrating the sandstones through fractures and from the stratifications causes alveolar erosion and anastomosing tunnels (FORTES 1996, MELO & COIMBRA 1996), which combine the dissolution of the kaolinic cement and the mechanical removal of grains, forming excavations that contribute to the bizarre rock formations (Fig. 6).

A common feature of the sandstone plateau is the enclosed waterlogged depressions, that frequently form small lakes (Fig. 3). One example is the Bonita Lake, which has already been studied for the paleoclimatic reconstitution of the region (BEHLING 1997a and 1997b). It is possible that these depressions are a result of underground removal, chemical as well as mechanical, of the material of the Furnas Sandstone (kaolinic cement and quartz grains). This removal is caused by the infiltration of water, especially along the structural directions that favour the permeability of the rock massif.

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Fig. 2 - Evolution sketch of the coastal region of the State of Paraná in Southern Brazil, showing continental break-up and formation of the Guartelá Canyon and Devonian Escarpment.


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Fig. 3 - Geology of the region of the Guartelá Canyon. 1: Proterozoic to Ordovician basement; 2: Furnas Formation; 3: Ponta Grossa Formation; 4: Itararé Group; 5: dykes of diabase and associated rocks (Mesozoic); 6: Quaternary alluvial sediments; 7: main structures (faults, fractures); 8: escarpments; 9: small enclosed lakes (LB = Bonita Lake); 10: reception centre and perimeter of the State Park of Guartelá (based on TREIN et al. 1966a and 1966b, MINEROPAR 1989).


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Fig. 4 - Ruiniform relief in the Furnas Sandstone with forms controlled by sedimentary and ruptile structures. Note dominating grasslands with copses and gallery woods.


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Fig. 5 - Ruiniform relief in the Furnas Sandstone, with polygonal fractures in the rock surface. Note some typical savanna trees and dominating grassland.

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Fig. 6 - Alveolar erosion and anastomosing tunnels, these latter controlled by preexisting structures of the Furnas Sandstone in the escarpments of the Guartelá Canyon.

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Fig. 7 - Fossil tracks (Paleophycus) parallel to the Furnas Sandstone bedding near the Ponte de Pedra waterfall.


The Devonian Escarpment is a cuesta relief that marks the beginning of the occurrence of the units of the east border of the Paraná Basin over its basement. It is so called because it is supported by the Furnas Sandstone, from the Devonian Period, which is why it would be more appropriate to call it the "Devonian Sandstone Escarpment", as the escarpment is far more recent, occurring after the reactivation of the Ponta Grossa Arch in the Mesozoic.

The rocks that appear in the basement of the Paraná Basin in the Guartelá Canyon region are part of the Castro Group (Ordovician), comprising volcanic (rhyolites, andesites), pyroclastic (tuffs, lapilli) and terrigenous (conglomerates, arkoses, siltstones, mudstones) rocks with associated volcanic breccia, tectonically very deformed and frequently verticalized. They occur on the Iapó riverbed for a long stretch along the canyon.

The Basal unit of the Paraná Basin in the region is represented by the Iapó Formation (Ordovician/Silurian limit), included in the Ivaí River Group. It comprises subglacial diamictites, with a thickness of less than 20m (ASSINE et al. 1998). The occurrence of this unit is not continuous, which is why it appears, for example, at the beginning of the Devonian Escarpment along the PR-340 highway, and fails to appear in various places along the canyon.

The Furnas Formation, or Furnas Sandstone (Lower Devonian), appears with a discordant contact over the Iapó Formation. The sandstone has a maximum thickness of between 250 and 300 metres in the region (MAACK 1970, ASSINE 1996). It shows a gradual transition to the basal strata of the overlying Ponta Grossa Formation, with which it composes the Paraná Group.

The Furnas Formation is composed predominantly of medium and coarse sandstones with light colouring, relatively homogeneous, feldspathic and/or kaolinic in its basal portion, with angular and subangular grains. The typical light colouring is due to the presence of kaolinite and illite as matrix/cement of the grains of quartz and feldspar (RAMOS & FORMOSO 1975). The kaolinite shows a detritic as well as authigenic aspect (MELO 1999, MELO et al. 1999), while the illite seems to be predominantly authigenic (MELO 1999).

Especially in the basal portion there occur metrical interbedded layers of conglomerates and conglomeratic quartzous sandstones. Towards the top, metric layers of fine sandstones and argillaceous siltstone appear, the latter occurring with more and more frequency, characterizing the gradual transition to the sediments of the Ponta Grossa Formation (LANGE & PETRI 1967). These faciological variations, very clear on the outcrops on the escarpments of the Guartelá Canyon, led ASSINE (1996) to propose a subdivision of the Furnas Formation into three faciological associations corresponding to the hierarchy of members, besides the "transition layers" as it changes to the overlying Ponta Grossa Formation. These are:

Unit 1 (lower): consisting of medium and very coarse sandstones interbedded with conglomeratic sandstones and quartz conglomerates, arranged in tabular and lenticular sets, with a thickness of 0.5m to 1.5 m, with tabular and tangential cross-bedding stratification; basal conglomerates occur (up to 2 m thick) with rounded quartz clasts of up to 12 cm; maximum thickness of this unit in the canyon is 30 m.

Unit II (medium): predominantly medium sandstones in tabular to cuneiform sets 0.5 to 2.0 m thick with tabular and tangential cross-bedding stratification, which can merge laterally into siltstones or whitish-greenish shales where evidence of wave activity may appear; fossil tracks parallel to the surface of the layers are common (Paleophycus, Fig. 7); this unit reaches a thickness of 120 m in the canyon;

Unit III (upper): medium to very coarse sandstones in sets of up to 5.0 m in thickness with tabular and trough cross-bedding stratification; presence of lag deposits up to 0.5 m thick, containing rounded gravels of quartz and quartzite of up to 15 cm; the maximum thickness of this unit in the canyon is 120 m.

The palaeoenvironment of the Furnas Formation has been the subject of many debates. Sometimes it is interpreted as continental to transitional (ASSINE et al. 1994, MILANI 1997, MILANI et al s.d.), sometimes as marine (ASSINE 1996). The transition to the sediments of the overlying Ponta Grossa Formation shows an indisputable marine transgression at the top of the Furnas Formation.

The most recent rocks present in the Guartelá Canyon region are attributable to the Serra Geral Formation (Upper Jurassic to Lower Cretaceous). They are represented by many dykes, predominantly of diabase, but also including microdiorite, quartz-microdiorite and porphyry microdiorite (TREIN et al. 1996a)

The dykes appear in the form of tabular parallel-verticalized bodies lying NW-SE, longitudinal to the axis of the Ponta Grossa Arch. They can be up to 200 m in thickness and more than 20 km in length. Up to 20 dykes can occur in a stretch of 4 km in width (Fig. 3), making it one of the most noticeable examples of dyke swarms in Brazil.

Geological Structures

The Guartelá Canyon is situated on the axis of the Ponta Grossa Arch, an important NW-SE structure of the Paraná Basin. It is an arch in the form of a structural high with the axis inclined to the NW, active since the Palaeozoic, but the scene of intense tectonic activity especially during the Mesozoic. The vertical movements along the arch reached their peak during this time, when deep longitudinal fractures gave way to the magma which formed the extensive lava flows of the Serra Geral Formation, which appear on the Third Paraná Plateau, in the west of the state. The Ponta Grossa Arch is considered to have been an aborted triple junction branch during the fragmentation of Gondwana and the origin of the South Atlantic (HERZ 1997).

The Ponta Grossa Arch is responsible for some of the more notable geological and geomorphologic features of the east flank of the Paraná Basin:

a) fractures, faults and dyke swarms, predominantly of diabase, in a NW-SE direction, which control local relief and hydrography;

b) concavity of the contact of the Palaeozoic sediments of the Paraná Basin over its basement, and exposure of lower units (Furnas and Ponta Grossa formations) which do not outcrop in many areas of the basin; this re-entrance corresponds to the erosive removal of the Palaeozoic sediments in the higher parts of the arch;

c) scaling of the relief on plateaux of erosive origin in the State of Paraná, a result of the combination of the effect of the tectonic raising in the Ponta Grossa Arch with the differential erosion acting on the rocks of the Paraná Basin and Proterozoic and Ordovician basement.

In the stretch of the Canyon between Castro and Tibagi, the Iapó River is strongly controlled by the NW-SE ruptile structures, longitudinal to the axis of the Ponta Grossa Arch. They contain the main rectilinear stretches of the river, which are linked by secondary structures, transversal to the former (Fig. 3). These latter, without dykes, many times displace the dykes, suggesting that these transversal structures are younger.

Ecosystems and Palaeoclimatology

Open grasslands of the savanna type (TAKEDA et al. 1996, MORO 1998), which occupy most of the peaks and flanks of the hills, predominate in the Guartelá Canyon and neighbouring regions (Figs. 4, 5 and 8). The uniform physiognomy of the fields is only broken up by the occurrence of Araucaria forest, which appears in the form of gallery woods (frequently found at the bottom of canyon-type valleys) or in isolated copses (Fig. 4 and 8). This type of forest formation is included in the phytoecological zone of the mixed ombrophyla forest (VELOSO & GÓES FILHO 1982) situated in Maack’s so-called "region of open grasslands with copses and gallery woods along rivers and creeks (also Araucaria zones)" (MAACK 1981).

The vegetation of the grasslands consists mainly of grasses Cyperaceae, Compositae, Verbenaceae and Leguminosae, which form a dense herbaceous covering (TAKEDA et al. 1996, MORO 1998).

In the copses various stages of succession can be distinguished. In the pioneer nucleus heliophila species of the Myrtaceae, Anacardiaceae and Euphorbiaceae families predominate, without Araucaria. In the more developed nuclei "...the Araucaria is found surrounded by an undergrowth of Myrtaceae and Lauraceae, on the edge of which Melastomataceae and Compositae occur in abundance" (MORO 1998, p.14).

Apart from the vegetation that appears in the more developed areas described above, Palmae, bamboos and pteridophytes (ferns) also occur in the vegetation along the edges of rivers and bodies of water, as in the case of the Iapó River in the canyon. Angico (Leguminosae) also appears in the more developed stages of the gallery woods, which can be observed along the Iapó River.

In Guartelá there is an enclave with a phytoecological formation typical of open wooded savanna (TAKEDA et al. 1996), with some indicative plant families, such as Vochysiaceae, Ochnaceae (Fig. 9) and Caryocaraceae. The enclave is thought to be a relict of the semi-arid vegetation that may have covered the State of Paraná in a past age (MAACK 1949, KLEIN 1984), still surviving in places along the Cinzas River (Jaguariaíva and Sengés), Sabáudia, Campo Mourão and Guartelá, this being the southernmost example in Brazil. In Londrina (north of the State of Paraná) the analysis of carbon isotopes in soils of the semi-deciduous mesophytic forest revealed that between 5450 and 9340 years BP this scrubland dominated the landscape (PESSENDA et al. 1996).

The preservation of these remains of savanna is due to two factors: the isolation imposed by the Devonian Escarpment, and the low fertility of the soil derived from quartzous sandstone (MAACK 1948 and TAKEDA et al. 1996).

Another ecotone (transition zone) present in Guartelá corresponds to the swampy grasslands, where Cyperaceae and Juncaceae predominate with a frequent presence of Eurocaulaceae, Polyglaceae and Xyridaceae (TAKEDA et al. 1996). These fields appear in the enclosed lakes of the arenaceous plateaux, and in the zones of the water-table outcrop on the slopes. The analysis of the pollen assemblage present in the accumulated sediments of Bonita Lake, one of these enclosed lakes (Fig. 3), has indicated that the spread of the Araucaria in the region, marking the transition to a more humid climate, started about 3000 years BP (BEHLING 1997a and 1997b).

The various ecosystems present in the Guartelá, as well as the characteristic flora, are home to a number of species that are endangered outside the park's boundaries. Some examples of birds are the curucaca (Theristicus candatus), American kestrel (Falco sparverius), quail, partridge, and guan, and amongst the mastofauna there is the little anteater, howling monkey, armadillo, capybara, and the guará wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus), a rare species threatened with extinction .

Archaeological Sites

Various natural shelters in Guartelá, consisting of Furnas Sandstones caves, reveal archaeological material of the Paleoindians that lived in the region. At least two of these sites (the Floriano and Ponciano caves) have already been thoroughly excavated (BLASI 1972), with lithic artefacts, pottery fragments and many cave paintings having been found (Fig. 10). Among these, monochromic zoomorphs painted in red predominate, the anthropomorphs being rare. They are attributed to the Plateau Tradition, which extends from Bahia to Paraná (PROUS 1992, SCHIMITZ 1997). There are also cave paintings in Guartelá attributed to the Geometric Tradition (PARELLADA s.d), characterised by geometric shapes (polygons, dots, lines and circles).

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Fig. 8 - Dominating grassland on hilltops and slopes of the Guartelá Canyon, with copses and gallery woods containing Araucaria.

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Fig. 9 - Typical savanna tree (Ouratea spectabilis, family Ochnaceae) in enclave on hilltop in the Guartelá Canyon.

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Fig. 10 - Paleoindians cave painting of the Floriano Shelter in the eastern portion of the State Park of Guartelá, with monochromic zoomorphs attributed to the Plateau Tradition and associated geometric shapes.

The Campos Gerais region of Paraná was part of the ancient Peabirú trail, used by the Indians, which linked the Atlantic coast to the hinterland of South America. On this trail, groups of nomadic Indians travelled in search of better areas to hunt, pick fruits, harvest or simply discover new lands. The study of the remains in the region, still incipient, could bring information to clarify the chronological succession of the cultural blend of the Indian population and the paleoclimatic pressure for the migratory movements.

Measures for Protection

Some of the dangers to the Guartelá Canyon come from the establishment of the State Park, creating facilities for visitors, which should cause a considerable increase in the number of tourists. In the spring of 1999, two years after the inauguration of the park, the destruction of the vegetation and an onset of the erosive process on the most frequently used trails pointed to the need to establish trails along more suitable routes, also taking into account the support capacity of the terrain. There is a need for more detailed planning of the paths, not only to preserve the park, but also to take better advantage of the area. The natural and archaeological heritage of the park are not yet sufficiently well known, and is not shown to visitors, who can spend several days camping in the region and leave without knowing what are the remains of the paleoindians who once roamed the area, what ecosystems exist there and their relevance, which rocks sustain the relief, how the canyon was formed and what its relevance is to an understanding of the present and former landscape.

The main risk to the Guartelá Canyon, however, is the threat represented by the exploitation of the areas surrounding the park. Some practices, such as the burning of fields at the end of the winter, to stimulate growth, and the planting of Pinus, whose seeds are carried on the wind and which is extremely harmful to native species, cause a threat of forest fires and the uncontrolled introduction of exotic species. Only the appropriate management of the entire Devonian Escarpment, already set aside as an APA (Environment Protection Area) by a state decree in 1992 , but not yet established as such, could minimise such threats. The management plan of the APA could also include the establishment of natural habitat corridors, in a way that areas of preservation, such as the State Park of Guartelá , would not only have the role of preserving samples of the ecosystem, but would also represent a vital link for the survival of natural ecosystems in extensive regions (ROCHA 1997).


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