Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 11, Issue 5, pp 1112–1122 | Cite as

Effects of topography and land use on woody plant species composition and beta diversity in an arid Trans-Himalayan landscape, Nepal

  • Shishir PaudelEmail author
  • Ole R. Vetaas


Distribution patterns of plant species are believed to be impacted by small-scale habitat heterogeneity. However, there have been few comparative studies examining how woody vegetation composition and diversity varies with aspects of different orientations in the Trans-Himalayan region at a local scale. Here, we examined the effects of incoming solar radiation on variation in woody species composition and compared the diversity between the northeast- and southwest-facing slopes in a Trans-Himalayan valley of Nepal. We also examined the implicit interactions between slope orientation and land use in determining the compositional variations between the slopes. We selected two pairs of northeast- and southwest-facing slopes where the first pair has a similar land use and differs in exposure only (Pisang site) while the other pair has clear differences in land use in addition to slope exposure (Braka site). In each site, we sampled 72 plots (36 on each slope) in which the presence and absence of woody species, environmental variables, and disturbance were recorded. Correspondence Analysis (CA) results suggested that the woody species composition significantly varied between northeast- and southwest-facing slopes at both sites, and was significantly correlated with measured environmental variables such as radiation index, altitude, and canopy openness. In the Braka site, mean alpha diversity was significantly higher on southwest-facing slopes. In contrast, beta diversity and gamma diversity were greater on northeast-facing slopes at both sites. Our results suggest that topographic variables (e.g., radiation index) affect species composition between the slopes, likely due to their influence on small scale abiotic environmental variables. However, the effects of land use, such as livestock browsing/grazing may interact with the effects of slope exposure, effectively reducing differences in species composition within slopes but enhancing the differences in beta diversity between contrasting slopes in the Braka. We conclude that slope orientation and land use are important factors in structuring the woody species composition and diversity in the arid Trans-Himalayan region. We suggest that both environmental and land use variables should be taken into consideration in future studies on plant community structure along the cultural landscapes.


Correspondence analysis Diversity Environmental gradients Himalaya Land use Topographic aspect Woody vegetation 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Supplementary material

11629_2013_2858_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (78 kb)
Supplementary material, approximately 77.8 KB.


  1. Aase TH, Vetaas OR (2007) Risk management by communal decision in Trans-Himalayan farming: Manang Valley in Central Nepal. Human Ecology 35: 453–460. DOI: 10.1007/s10745-006-9057-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aase TH, Chaudhary RP, Vetaas OR (2010) Farming flexibility and food security under climate uncertainty: Manang, Nepal Himalaya. Area 42: 228–238. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2009.00911.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aerts R (1999) Interspecific competition in natural plant communities: mechanisms, trade-offs and plant-soil feedbacks. Journal of Experimental Botany 50: 29–37. DOI: 10.1093/jxb/50.330.29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Austin MP, Cunningham RB, Fleming MP (1984) New approaches to direct gradient analysis using environmental scalars and statistical curve-fitting procedure. Vegetatio 55: 11–27. DOI:10.1007/BF00039976.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bellemare J, Motzkin G, Foster DR (2002) Legacies of the agricultural past in the forested present: an assessment of historical land-use effects on rich mesic forests. Journal of Biogeography 29: 1401–1420. DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2699.2002.00762.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bhattarai KJ, Vetaas OR, Grytnes JA (2004) Relationship between plant species richness and biomass in an arid subalpine of the central Himalayas, Nepal. Folia Geobotanica 39: 57–71. DOI: 10.1007/BF02803264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burnett MR, August PV, Brown JH, et al. (1998) The influence of geomorphological heterogeneity on biodiversity. Part I. A patch-scale perspective. Conservation Biology 12: 363–370. DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.1998.96238.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Byers A (2005) Contemporary human impacts on alpine ecosystems in the Sagarmatha (Mt Everest) National park, Khumbu, Nepal. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 95: 112–140. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8306.2005.00452.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clarke KR (1993) Non-parametric multivariate analyses of changes in community structure. Australian Journal of Ecology 18: 117–143. DOI: 10.1111/j.1442-9993.1993.tb00438.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cowling RM, Rundel PW, Lamont BB, et al. (1996) Plant diversity in mediterranean-climate regions. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 11: 362–366. DOI: 10.1016/0169-5347(96)10044-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Currie DJ (1991) Energy and large-scale patterns of animal-and plant-species richness. American Naturalist 137: 27–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Currie DJ, Paquin V (1987) Large-scale biogeographical patterns of species richness of trees. Nature 329: 326–327. DOI: 10.1038/329326a0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Danby RK, Hik DS (2007) Responses of white spruce (Picea glauca) to experimental warming at a subarctic alpine treeline. Global Change Biology 13:437–451. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2006.01302.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. DHM (2008) Climatological records of Nepal 1995–2008. Department of Hydrology and Meteorology, Government of Nepal, Kathmandu.Google Scholar
  15. Ferrer-Castan D, Vetaas OR (2003) Floristic variation, chronological types and diversity: do they correspond at broad and local scales? Diversity and Distribution 9: 221–235. DOI: 10.1046/j.1472-4642.2003.00009.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fu P, Rich PM (2002) A geometric solar radiation model with applications in agriculture and forestry. Computers and Electronics in Agriculture 37: 25–35. DOI: 10.1016/S0168-1699(02)00115-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gallardo Cruz AJ, Pérez-García EA, Meave JA (2009) B-Diversity and vegetation structure as influenced by slope aspect and altitude in a seasonally dry tropical landscape. Landscape Ecology 24: 473–482. DOI: 10.1007/s10980-009-9332-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Harrison S, Davies KF, Safford HD, Viers JH (2006) Beta diversity and scale-dependence of the productivity-diversity relationship:a test in the Californian serpentine flora. Journal of Ecology 94: 110–117. DOI:10.1111/j.1365-2745.2005.01078.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Harrison S, Vellend M, Damschen EI (2011) ‘Structured’ beta diversity increases with climatic productivity in a classic dataset. Ecosphere 2: 1–13. DOI:10.1890/ES10-00095.1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Haugo RD, Hall SA, Gray EM, et al. (2010) Influences of climate, fire, grazing, and logging on woody species composition along an elevational gradient in the eastern Cascades, Washington. Forest Ecology and Management 260: 2204–2213. DOI: 10.1016/j.foreco.2010.09.021.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hawkins BA, Field R, Cornell HV, et al. (2003) Energy, water, and broad-scale geographic patterns of species richness. Ecology 84: 3105–3117. DOI: 10.1890/03-8006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hobbs RJ, Huenneke LF (1992) Disturbance, diversity, and invasion: implications for conservation. Conservation Biology 6: 324–337. DOI: 10.1046/j.1523-1739.1992.06030324.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hofgaard A (1997) Inter-relationships between treeline position, species diversity, land use and climate change in the central Scandes Mountains of Norway. Global Ecology and Biogeography Letter 6: 357–368. DOI: 10.2307/2997351.Google Scholar
  24. Holland PG, Steyne DG (1975) Vegetation responses to latitudinal variations in slope angle and aspect. Journal of Biogeography 2: 179–183. DOI: 10.2307/3037989.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. ICIMOD (1995) Iso-climatic map of mean annual precipitation. International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Kathmandu, Nepal.Google Scholar
  26. Jankowski JE, Ciecka AL, Meyer NY, et al. (2009) Diversity along environmental gradients: implications of habitat specialization in tropical montane landscapes. Journal of Animal Ecology 78: 315–327. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2008.01487.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jost L (2007) Partitioning diversity into independent alpha and beta components. Ecology 88: 2427–2439. DOI: 10.1890/06-1736.1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Keller F, Goyette S, Beniston M (2005) Sensitivity analysis of snow cover to climate change scenarios and their impact on plant habitats in alpine terrain. Climatic Change 72: 299–319. DOI: 10.1007/s10584-005-5360-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kraft NJB, Comita LS, Chase JM, et al. (2011) Disentangling the drivers of Beta-diversity along latitudinal and elevation gradients. Science 333: 1755–1758. DOI: 10.1126/science.1208584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kreutzmann H (2012) Pastoral practices in High Asia. Springer, Dordrecht Heidelberg.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. McCune B, Grace JB (2002) Analysis of ecological communities. MjM Software, Glenden Beach, OR, USA.Google Scholar
  32. Mong CE, Vetaas OR (2006) Establishment of Pinus wallichiana on a Himalayan glacier foreland: stochastic distribution or safe sites? Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 38: 584–592. DOI: 10.1657/1523-0430(2006)38[584:EOPWOA]2.0.CO;2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Moeslund JE, Arge L, Bøcher PK, et al. (2013) Topography as a driver of local terrestrial vascular plant diversity patterns. Nordic Journal of Botany 31: 129–144. DOI: 10.1111/j.1756-1051.2013.00082.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Mouquet N, Loreau M (2003) Community patterns in sourcesink metacommunities. American Naturalist 162: 544–557. DOI: 10.1086/378857.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Oke J (1987) Boundary layers climate. 2nd ed. Methuen & Co, New York, USA.Google Scholar
  36. Panthi MP, Chaudhary RP, Vetaas OR (2007) Plant species richness and composition in a Trans-Himalayan inner valley of Manang district, central Nepal. Himalayan Journal of Sciences 4: 57–64.Google Scholar
  37. Paulsen J, Weber UM, Körner C (2000) Tree growth near treeline: Abrupt or gradual reduction with altitude? Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 32: 14–20. DOI: 10.2307/1552405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pausas JG (1994) Species richness patterns in the understory of Pyrenean Pinus sylvestris forest. Journal of Vegetation Science 5: 517–524. DOI: 10.2307/3235978.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Polunin O, Stainton A (1984) Flowers of the Himalaya, Oxford University press, Oxford India Paperbacks, New Delhi.Google Scholar
  40. Poulos HM, Taylor AH, Beaty RM (2007) Environmental controls on dominance and diversity of woody plant species in a Madrean, Sky Island ecosystem, Arizona, USA. Plant Ecology 193: 15–30. DOI: 10.1007/s11258-006-9245-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Poulos HM, Camp AE (2010) Topographic influences on vegetation mosaics ant tree diversity in the Chihuahuan Desert Borderlands. Ecology 111: 376–381. DOI: 10.1890/08-1808.1.Google Scholar
  42. Press JR, Shrestha KK, Sutton DA (2000) Annotated checklist of the flowering plants of Nepal. The Natural History Museum, London.Google Scholar
  43. R Development Core Team (2008) R: A language and environment for statistical computing version 2.8.1. Vienna, Austria: R Foundation for Statistical Computing.Google Scholar
  44. Roche P, Tatoni T, Medail F (1998) Relative importance of abiotic factors in explaining variation in woody vegetation in a French rural landscape. Journal of Vegetation Science 9: 221–228. DOI: 10.2307/3237121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Scherrer D, Körner C (2010) Infra-red thermometry of alpine landscapes challenges climatic warming projections. Global Change Biology 16: 2602–2613. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2009.02122.x.Google Scholar
  46. Schickhoff U (2005) The upper timberline in the Himalayas, Hindu Kush and Karakorum: a review of geographical and ecological aspects. In: Broll G and Keplin B (eds.), Mountain ecosystems studies in treeline ecology. Springer. pp 275–354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Segura G, Balvanera P, Durán E, Pérez A (2002) Tree community structure and stem mortality along a water availability gradient in a Mexican tropical dry forest. Plant ecology 169: 259–271. DOI: 10.1023/A:1026029122077.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sherman RE, Mullen R, Li H, et al. (2007) Alpine ecosystems of Northwest Yunnan, China: an initial assessment for conservation. Journal of Mountain Science 4: 181–192. DOI: 10.1007/s11629-007-0181-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Shrestha KB, Vetaas OR (2009) The forest ecotone effect on species richness in an arid Trans-Himalayan landscape of Nepal. Folia Geobotanica 44: 247–262. DOI: 10.1007/s12224-009-9046-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Shreve F (1924) Soil temperature as influenced by altitude and slope exposure. Ecology 5: 128–136. DOI: 10.2307/1929010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sternberg M, Shoshany M (2001) Influence of slope aspect on Mediterranean woody formations: Comparison of a semiarid and an arid site in Israel. Ecological Research 16: 335–345. DOI: 10.1046/j.1440-1703.2001.00393.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Stohlgren TJ, Bachand RR (1997) Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) ecotones in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA. Ecology 78: 632–641.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Svenning JC (2000) Small canopy gaps influence plant distributions in the rain forest understory. Biotropica 32: 252–261. DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-7429.2000.tb00468.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. ter Braak CJF, Šmilauer P (2002) Canoco for Windows Version 4.5, Copyright 1997–2002. Biometris-Plant Research International, Wageningen, the Netherlands.Google Scholar
  55. The Plant List (2010) Version 1. Published on the Internet; Scholar
  56. Van Spengen W (1987) The Nyishangba of Manang: Geographical Perspectives on the Rise of Nepalese Trading Community. Kailash 13: 137–276.Google Scholar
  57. Vetaas OR (2000) Comparing species temperature response curves: population density versus secondhand data. Journal of Vegetation Science 11: 659–666. DOI: 10.2307/3236573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Vetaas OR (1992) Gradients in field-layer vegetation on an arid misty mountain plateau in the Sudan. Journal of Vegetation Science 3: 527–534. 10.2307/3235809.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Vellend M, Verheyen K, Flinn KM, et al. (2007) Homogenization of forest plant communities and weakening of species-environment relationships via agricultural land use. Journal of Ecology 95: 565–573. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2007.01233.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Weidinger JT (2006) Predesign, failure and displacement mechanisms of large rockslides in the Annapurna Himalayas, Nepal. Engineering Geology 83: 201–216. DOI:10.1016/j.enggeo.2005.06.032.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Whittaker RH (1972) Evolution and measurement of species diversity. Taxon 21: 213–251. DOI: 10.2307/1218190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Whittaker RJ, Willis KJ, Field R (2001) Scale and species richness: towards a general, hierarchical theory of species diversity. Journal of Biogeography 28: 453–470. DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2699.2001.00563.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Zhuang L, Tian ZP, Chen YN, et al. (2012) Community characteristics of wild fruit forests along elevation gradients and the relationships between the wild fruit forests and environments in the Keguqin Mountain region of Iii. Journal of Mountain Science 9: 115–126. DOI: 10.1007/s11629-012-2009-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Zhang Z, Gang Hu, Jian Ni (2013) Effects of topographical and edaphic factors on the distribution of plant communities in two subtropical karst forests, southwestern China. Journal of Mountain Science 10: 95–104. DOI: 10.1007/s11629-013-2429-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Science Press, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CAS and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Natural Resources Ecology and ManagementOklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of BergenBergenNorway

Personalised recommendations