Human disturbance and forest diversity in the Tansa Valley, India

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We assessed the diversity of woody plants at 15 forested sites in the Tansa Valley of Thane District, in Maharashtra, India. The fewest species (11) were seen at a degraded mangrove site near the river mouth, and the greatest number (150) in the rich semi-evergreen forest on Tungar Hill. For all sites there were 141 tree, 25 shrub and 15 liana species, a total of 181 species. Excluding the mangrove site, which had no species in common with the other 14 sites, we analyzed the species distributions in detail. 2 These sites ranged in area from 4 to 30 km each, had woody floras of 89 6 6 species, and varied in intensity of human impact. Despite a history of exploitation and substantial reduction in biomass from firewood collecting, set fires and illicit tree felling, considerable plant diversity remains in the area.We found a modest increase in species richness in transects away from two villages. We observed the exploitation of the forest by the principal users, primarily of the Warli Tribe. They exploited a wide variety of forest resources (92 species), for medicines, foods, construction materials, household goods, manure and other purposes. They collected 15 items for sale. By far the single most important item collected was firewood, which dramatically reduced forest biomass within 2 km of villages. The species distributions in these forest remnants are strongly nested, mostly due to varying degrees of disturbance at individual sites. The high species diversity on Tungar Hill is most likely a relict of the earlier character of forests throughout much of the valley. It merits the highest priorities for preservation, as a refuge for Western Ghat species at the northern limits of their distributions.

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