Tree species diversity and community composition in a human-dominated tropical forest of Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot, India.
The structure, function, and ecosystem services of tropical forest depend on its species richness, diversity, dominance, and the patterns of changes in the assemblages of tree populations over time. Long-term data from permanent vegetation plots have yielded a wealth of data on the species diversity and dynamics of tree populations, but such studies have only rarely been undertaken in tropical forest landscapes that support large human populations. Thus, anthropogenic drivers and their impacts on species diversity and community structure of tropical forests are not well understood. Here we present data on species diversity, community composition, and regeneration status of tropical forests in a human-dominated landscape in the Western Ghats of southern India. Enumeration of 40 plots (50 m × 20 m) results a total of 106 species of trees, 76 species of saplings and 79 species of seedlings. Detrended Correspondence Analysis ordination of the tree populations yielded five dominant groups, along disturbance and altitudinal gradients on the first and second axes respectively. Abundant species of the area such as Albizia amara, Nothopegia racemosa and Pleiospermum alatum had relatively few individuals in recruiting size classes. Our data indicate probable replacement of rare, localized, and old-growth ‘specialists’ by disturbance-adapted generalists, if the degradation is continuing at the present scale.