Species and structural diversity of church forests in a fragmented Ethiopian Highland landscape

Alemayehu Wassie Eshete, F.J. Sterck, F. Bongers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Question: Thousands of small isolated forest fragments remain around churches (“church forests”) in the almost completely deforested Ethiopian Highlands. We questioned how the forest structure and composition varied with altitude, forest area and human influence. Location: South Gondar, Amhara National Regional State, Northern Ethiopia. Methods: The structure and species composition was assessed for 810 plots in 28 church forests. All woody plants were inventoried, identified and measured (stem diameter) in seven to 56 10 m x 10-m plots per forest. Results: In total, 168 woody species were recorded, of which 160 were indigeneous. The basal area decreased with tree harvest intensity; understorey and middle-storey density (5 cm DBH trees) increased with altitude. The dominance of a small set of species increased with altitude and grazing intensity. Species richness decreased with altitude, mainly due to variation in the richness of the overstorey community. Moreover, species richness in the understorey decreased with grazing intensity. Conclusions: We show how tree harvesting intensity, grazing intensity and altitude contribute to observed variations in forest structure, composition and species richness. Species richness was, however, not related to forest area. Our study emphasizes the significant role played by the remaining church forests for conservation of woody plant species in North Ethiopian Highlands, and the need to protect these forests for plant species conservation purposes
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)938-948
JournalJournal of Vegetation Science
Volume21
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Keywords

  • himalayan altitudinal gradient
  • tropical rain-forest
  • habitat fragmentation
  • montane forest
  • human impact
  • conservation
  • biodiversity
  • richness
  • disturbance
  • management

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