Plant Ecology

, Volume 132, Issue 1, pp 29-38

First online:

The effect of canopy disturbance on species richness in a central Himalayan oak forest

  • Ole R. VetaasAffiliated withBotanical Institute

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Non-epiphytic species richness was studied in different disturbance classes within a Quercus semecarpifolia forest. Nine disturbance classes were defined according to the degree of biomass removal (lopping) and their spatial mixture. Six of these were observed in the study area. The species were divided into three functional groups: climbers, phanerophytes, and field-layer plants. The primary aim was to test if there is an elevated species richness under an intermediate disturbed canopy for (i) all vascular plants, (ii) lianas, (iii) phanerophytes and (iv) field-layer species. The richness of the different plant groups and all species were fitted against the disturbance gradient by means of Generalized Linear Models (GLM). Other environmental variables such as altitude, potential solar radiation, light intensity, canopy cover and soil parameters were also evaluated as predictors. Disturbance classes, canopy cover and light intensity were combined into a new variable, disturbance-complex, using Principal Component Analyses.

Phanerophytes did not respond to any variable. Climbers were mostly related to pH and canopy cover, and were the only group related to altitude, nitrogen and loss-on-ignition. Herbaceous plants and total species richness showed a unimodal response to disturbance classes and the complex disturbance gradient, which supports the intermediate disturbance hypothesis. Relative radiation and slope also supported a unimodal response in herbaceous plants, but disturbance had a significant additional contribution to this pattern. The most significant predictor for these two groups was pH. The responses to organic carbon and phosphorus were not significant for any of the subsets.

The results indicate that a small-scale lopping regime will enhance species richness of vascular plants; only a few species in the intermediate disturbed forest are weedy ruderals. In such a situation, the conservation policy may accept small-scale human impact as part of the forest landscape.

Biodiversity Conservation GLM Nepal Vascular plants