Assessing Forest Structure and Composition along the Altitudinal Gradient in the State of Sikkim, Eastern Himalayas, India

Bhutia, Y., Ravikanth G, Ganesan, R. and Saha, S., 2019. Assessing Forest Structure and Composition along the Altitudinal Gradient in the State of Sikkim, Eastern Himalayas, India. Forests, 10(8), p.633.
Bhutia, Y., Ravikanth G, Ganesan, R. and Saha, S
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Forests, 10(8), p.633.

Understanding the structure and composition of native forests is a prerequisite in developing an adaptive forest management plan for Himalayan forest ecosystems where climate change is rapid. However, basic information on forest structure and composition are still limited in many places of the Eastern Himalayas. In this study, we aimed to understand the diversity, structure, and composition of forests and their variations along an altitudinal gradient in Himalayan forests. The study was conducted in the Indian federal state of Sikkim, Eastern Himalayas. We carried out a comprehensive and comparative evaluation of species diversity, stand basal area, and stem density along the altitudinal gradient from 900 m a.s.l. to 3200 m a.s.l. We used stratified random sampling to survey eighty-three plots each 0.1 ha in forest communities that occurred along the altitudinal gradient: (a) lower (900–1700 m) altitude forest (N = 24), (b) mid (1700–2500 m) altitude forests (N = 37), and (c) higher (2500–3200 m)altitude forests (N = 22). We measured and identified all living trees with a >3 cm diameter at breast height in each plot. We counted 10,344 individual plants, representing 114 woody species belonging to 42 families and 75 genera. The family Fagaceae and its species Lithocarpus pachyphyllus (Kurz) Rehder. were reported as the most dominant forest trees with the highest Importance Value Index. The Shannon diversity index was recorded as being the highest for the low-altitude forests, whereas measures of structural diversity varied among forests along with altitude: the mid-altitude forests recorded the highest stem density and the high-altitude forests showed the highest mean stem DBH (diameter at 1.3 m height). One significant finding of our study was the disparity of the size class distribution among forests along the altitudinal gradient. Overall, we found a reverse J-shape distribution of tree diameter signifying the uneven-agedness. However, we showed, for the first time, a complete lack of large trees (>93 cm DBH) in the lower altitude forests. Our study highlights conservation concerns for the low-altitude forests that record high species diversity, although lacked large-diameter trees. We anticipate that our study will provide a comprehensive understanding of forest diversity, composition, and structure along the altitudinal gradient to design conservation and sustainable management strategies

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Dr. G Ravikanth
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