Questions: Is species diversity affected in protected areas where human activities are permitted or tolerated? On plots of a fixed size, does stem density alone predict number of species? Are differences in density related to disturbance and altitude?
Location: Achanakmar-Amarkantak Biosphere Reserve, central India.
Methods: 42 sites, each with three replicate 10-m radius plots, were examined. All trees (≥ 30 cm GBH) in each plot were measured for girth at breast height. α-diversity, species richness and evenness were calculated for each site. The sites were ordinated by Nonmetric Multidimensional Scaling (NMS) using relative importance values of component species. Correspondence Analysis was used to broadly delineate communities. Anthropogenic disturbances were recorded in terms of percentage of trees lopped, scale of lopping, number of domestic livestock dung piles and foot trails (both livestock and people) for each plot.
Results: The NMS analysis exhibited a near linear arrangement of sites with no evidence of discrete vegetation zones. NMS axes were significantly related to altitude and disturbance scores. With increasing elevation, basal area increased but number of species, α-diversity and its components declined monotonically. The number of species and indices of species diversity were positively associated with tree lopping and also with total disturbance. Number of species was controlled by stem density only in plots not dominated by Shorea robusta.
Conclusions: Recent levels of human disturbance are associated with higher species diversity in this biosphere reserve. There is some evidence that stands at all altitudes follow the same successional pattern to dominance by Shorea, a successional pattern that also results in decreased diversity without disturbance.