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Land Use Change and Litter Insect Communities: Effects of Traditional Forest Use and Modern Plantations in Sringeri Taluka of the Western Ghats of India

Research Team: P. Dharma Rajan, P. A. Sinu and Sharachchandra Lélé

How do different forest management practices and the conversion of forests to other land uses affect biodiversity, in particular the diversity and structure of litter insect communities? This is the first of two studies conducted in the Western Ghats region of India that explored this question. 

In this study, litter insect diversity in natural (i.e., relatively undisturbed) forest patches was compared with that in well-managed soppinabettas (forests that are intensely managed and used for fuelwood and leaf mulch collection), degraded soppinabettas, and monocultural Acacia plantations in the semi-evergreen forests of Sringeri taluka of Chickmagalur district, a part of the Western Ghats region in Karnataka. Using satellite imagery and GIS techniques, a number of locations containing each of these four land-use types were identified. After carrying out detailed field verification, five sites, each containing all four land-use types, were finally selected (transects were laid) and systematic sampling was carried out across three seasons using pitfall traps and Berlese-Tullgren funnels. Data on environmental variables, vegetation structure, and litter density were also collected.

The preliminary results show that the changes in the land use affect litter insect diversity in complex ways. Well-managed soppinabettas and even degraded soppinabettas have a seasonally high species-richness, comparable to the natural forest, whereas the monocultural Acacia plantations tend to have a stable but low level of species-richness. Soppinabettas are constantly at an ‘intermediate level of disturbance’ and hence the species-richness is maximised but is in a non-equilibrium state. Clearly, monocultural plantations are much more detrimental to litter insect diversity as compared to heavily used forests, but the latter may be able to sustain high levels of diversity only under certain management practices. The role of natural forest patches as refugia may be quite important.

 

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