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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
Article

Abstract

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.

Keywords

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

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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

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