Woody plant communities of isolated Afromontane cloud forests in Taita Hills, Kenya

Aerts R. ; Thijs K.W. ; Lehouck V. ; Beentje H. ; Bytebier B. ; Matthysen E. ; Gulinck H. ; Lens L. ; Muys B. (2011)


In the Taita Hills in southern Kenya, remnants of the original Afromontane forest vegetation are restricted to isolated mountain peaks. To assess the level of degradation and the need for forest restoration, we examined how forest plant communities and their indicator species vary between and within remnant patches of cloud forest. We used ordinal abundance data to compare plant communities in eight forest fragments. We also analyzed data on the diversity and abundance of trees in 57 0.1 ha plots to compare tree communities within and between the largest two of these fragments, Ngangao (120 ha) and Mbololo (220 ha). The extant vegetation of the Taita Hills at landscape scale consists of secondary moist montane to intermediate montane forest. There was a high species dissimilarity between fragments (69%). Variation in species composition coincided with an abiotic gradient related to elevation. At plot level, secondary successional species and species of forest edges were most abundant and most frequent. Inferred clusters of plots almost entirely coincided with the two forest fragments. Indicator species associated with forest margins and gaps were more frequent in the smaller of the two forest fragments, while indicators for the larger fragment were more typical for less disturbed moist forest. Abiotic site variability but also different levels of disturbance determine site-specific variants of the montane forest. Conservation efforts should not only focus on maintaining forest quantity (size), but also on forest quality (species composition). Late-successional rainforest species are underrepresented in the woody plant communities of the Taita Hills and assisting restoration of viable populations of cloud forest climax tree species is urgently needed. © 2010 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.

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