The effect of altitude, patch size and disturbance on species richness and density of lianas in montane forest patches
Mohandass, D., Campbell, M. J., Hughes, A. C., Mammides, C., & Davidar, P.
The species richness and density of lianas (woody vines) in tropical forests is determined by various abiotic and biotic factors. Factors such as altitude, forest patch size and the degree of forest disturbance are known to exert strong influences on liana species richness and density. We investigated how liana species richness and density were concurrently influenced by altitude (1700–2360 m), forest patch size, forest patch location (edge or interior) and disturbance intensity in the tropical montane evergreen forests, of the Nilgiri and Palni hills, Western Ghats, southern India. All woody lianas (≥1 cm dbh) were enumerated in plots of 30 × 30 m in small, medium and large forest patches, which were located along an altitudinal gradient ranging from 1700 to 2360 m. A total of 1980 individual lianas were recorded, belonging to 45 species, 32 genera and 21 families, from a total sampling area of 13.86 ha (across 154 plots). Liana species richness and density decreased significantly with increasing altitude and increased with increasing forest patch size. Within forest patches, the proportion of forest edge or interior habitat influenced liana distribution and succession especially when compared across the patch size categories. Liana species richness and density also varied along the altitudinal gradient when examined using eco-physiological guilds (i.e. shade tolerance, dispersal mode and climbing mechanism). The species richness and density of lianas within these ecological guilds responded negatively to increasing altitude and positively to increasing patch size and additionally displayed differing sensitivities to forest disturbance. Importantly, the degree of forest disturbance significantly altered the relationship between liana species richness and density to increasing altitude and patches size, and as such is likely the primary influence on liana response to montane forest succession. Our findings suggest that managing forest disturbance in the examined montane forests would assist in conserving local liana diversity across the examined altitudinal range.