Systematic changes in diversity and composition of tree-related microhabitats across climate and human impact gradients on a tropical mountain

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Systematic changes in diversity and composition of tree-related microhabitats across climate and human impact gradients on a tropical mountain

Authors

Bianco, G.; Hemp, A.; Schleuning, M.

Abstract

Tree-related microhabitats (TReMs) have been proposed as important indicators of biodiversity to guide forest management. However, their application has been limited mostly to temperate ecosystems, and it is largely unknown how the diversity of TReMs varies along environmental gradients. In this study, we assessed the diversity of TReMs on 180 individual trees and 46 plots alongside a large environmental gradient on Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. We used a typology adjusted to tropical forests and a tree-climbing protocol to obtain quantitative information on TreMs on large trees and dense canopies. We computed the diversity of TReMs for each individual tree and plot and tested how TReM diversity was associated with properties of individual trees and environmental conditions in terms of climate and human impact. We further used non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) to investigate the composition of TReM assemblages alongside the environmental gradients. We found that diameter at breast height (DBH) and height of the first branch were the most important determinants of TReM diversity on individual trees, with higher DBH and lower first branch height promoting TReM diversity. At the plot level, we found that TReM diversity increased with mean annual temperature and decreased with human impact. The composition of TReMs showed high turnover across ecosystem types, with a stark difference between forest and non-forest ecosystems. Climate and the intensity of human impact were closely associated with TReM composition. Our study is a first test of how TReM diversity and composition vary along environmental gradients in tropical ecosystems. The importance of tree size and architecture in fostering microhabitat diversity underlines the importance of large veteran trees. Because diversity and composition of TReMs are sensitive to climate and land-use effects, our study suggests that TReMs can be used to efficiently monitor consequences of global change on tropical forest biodiversity.

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