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Changes in rain forest tree diversity, dominance and rarity across a seasonality gradient in the Western Ghats, India

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Abstract Aim 

We assessed the effects of latitude, altitude and climate on the alpha diversity of rain forest trees in the Western Ghats (WG) of India. We tested whether stem densities, dominance, the prevalence of rarity, and the proportion of understorey trees are significantly correlated with alpha diversity. Location 

The WG is a chain of mountains c. 1600 km in length, running parallel to the western coast of the Indian peninsula from above 8° N to almost 21° N latitude. Wet forests occur as a narrow strip in regions with heavy rainfall. Methods 

To assess tree diversity we used data from 40 small plots, < 1 ha in area, where all trees ≥ 3.18 cm d.b.h. had been inventoried. These plots were distributed across 7 latitudinal degrees and at elevations between 200 and 1550 m. Fisher's alpha was used as a measure of diversity. For each plot, the proportion of trees belonging to the understorey, the proportion of trees belonging to the most abundant species in the plot, as a measure of dominance, and the proportionate representation of singletons, as a measure of rarity, were estimated, and correlated with Fisher's alpha, elevation, rainfall and seasonality. Results 

Annual rainfall and seasonality increased towards the north, but were not significantly correlated. Tree diversity increased significantly with decreasing seasonality. Tree diversity was not significantly correlated with stem density or with the proportion of understorey tree species, but was significantly correlated with tree dominance and rarity. Dominance increased and rarity significantly decreased with increasing seasonality. Main conclusions 

This study demonstrates that seasonality influences rain forest tree diversity in the WG of India. The relationship between alpha diversity, dominance and rarity lends correlative support for the Janzen–Connell pest pressure hypothesis.

Keywords: Alpha diversity; India; Janzen–Connell hypothesis; Western Ghats; pest pressure; seasonality gradient; tropical rain forest

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Salim Ali School of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Pondicherry University, Kalapet, Pondicherry, India

Publication date: 2005-03-01

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