Balancing biodiversity and human land use: Effects of fire, grazing and harvest on plant individuals, populations and communities in the Western Ghats, India

by Mandle, Lisa, Ph.D., UNIVERSITY OF HAWAI'I AT MANOA, 2012, 238 pages; 3520689


Effective conservation of the world’s remaining diversity requires determining to what degree preservation of biodiversity is compatible with meeting human needs. However, there is still a limited scientific understanding of the compatibility and trade-offs between biodiversity conservation and human land use. I used the case study of wild mountain date palm ( Phoenix loureiri Kunth) in savanna woodland ecosystems of India’s Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot to investigate the ecological effects and conservation implications of fire, grazing and palm leaf harvest – three widespread and commonly co-occurring forms of land management activities in the tropics. I integrated results from a manipulative experiment, a regional observational study and mathematical models to determine how the effects of and interactions among these activities scale from palm individuals to populations to plant communities. I found that mountain date palm populations exhibited resilience to fire and low intensities of harvest and grazing, indicating a high potential for sustainable harvest. Individual-level compensatory growth, vegetative reproduction and density-dependent survival contributed to palm population resilience to disturbance. At the community level, areas managed for palm leaf harvest and livestock grazing retained similar levels of plant species and functional diversity to areas protected from these activities. However, the combined effects of fire, wild plant harvest and livestock grazing were associated with reduced tree cover and diversity and increased understory diversity. I also found evidence for a trade-off between maximizing the growth of mountain date palm populations and maximizing tree species diversity, mediated by the relationship between fire and canopy openness. Overall, my results suggest that human-managed savanna woodlands can both support mountain date palm leaf harvest and contribute to conservation objectives. Promoting a mosaic of land management practices would be an effective way to balance the need to preserve plant diversity with the potential for these ecosystems to contribute to the livelihoods of local people. Protected areas with reduced human land use may more effectively conserve tree cover and tree diversity, while areas managed for plant harvest and livestock grazing could still maintain substantial overall plant diversity and provide connectivity between protected areas, while additionally providing benefits to local people.

AdviserTamara Ticktin
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsBotany; Ecology; Asian studies
Publication Number3520689

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