The pa´ramo soils of the mountainous upper Andean region (N3300 m a. s. l.) of the Rio Paute basin in central Ecuador are characterized by a thick, dark, highly organic epipedon and are classified as Andosols and Histosols. Their high water retention and buffering capacity play a key role in the hydrology of the region, which is subject to land use changes and increased cultivation. In the west (Western Cordillera), the soils are largely formed in the late Miocene and Pliocene volcanoclastic Tarqui formation, while in the east (Central Cordillera) they are formed in an older, mostly intermediate low-grade metamorphic rocks.
Ten soil profiles were sampled and studied, using extraction techniques (oxalate and pyrophosphate) and XRD-techniques.
Major differences in composition of the clay fractions were found that allow for distinction of three main groups of pa´ramo soils. A first group consists of soils influenced by recent volcanic ashes and dominated by organometallic complexes and with minor but distinct amounts of degraded mica, most probably formed by weathering of primary mica, present in these ashes. The second group comprises soils formed in volcanoclastic material of various Tertiary and earlier formations, containing residual primary and secondary crystalline clay-size minerals, as well as organometallic complexes whose genesis can be linked to the abundant presence of easily weatherable materials in these formations. A third group consists of soils in relicts of Tertiary, highly weathered regolith, formed under humid tropical conditions before the Andean uplift and occurring in the Central
Cordillera. These soils contain kaolinite and gibbsite and develop into Histosols in the absence of significant organometallic complexation.