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Vertical and Horizontal Vegetation Structure across Natural and Modified Habitat Types at Mount Kilimanjaro.

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Publication date 2015
Author Rutten Gemma, Ensslin Andreas, Hemp Andreas, Fischer Markus,
Project SP4: Plant diversity and performance in relation to climate and land use: communities, species, populations, ecological genetics
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal PloS one
Volume (Issue) 10(9)
Page(s) 0138822 - 0138822
Title of proceedings PloS one
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0138822

Open Access

URL http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0138822
Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)

Abstract

In most habitats, vegetation provides the main structure of the environment. This complexity can facilitate biodiversity and ecosystem services. Therefore, measures of vegetation structure can serve as indicators in ecosystem management. However, many structural measures are laborious and require expert knowledge. Here, we used consistent and convenient measures to assess vegetation structure over an exceptionally broad elevation gradient of 866-4550 m above sea level at Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Additionally, we compared (human)-modified habitats, including maize fields, traditionally managed home gardens, grasslands, commercial coffee farms and logged and burned forests with natural habitats along this elevation gradient. We distinguished vertical and horizontal vegetation structure to account for habitat complexity and heterogeneity. Vertical vegetation structure (assessed as number, width and density of vegetation layers, maximum canopy height, leaf area index and vegetation cover) displayed a unimodal elevation pattern, peaking at intermediate elevations in montane forests, whereas horizontal structure (assessed as coefficient of variation of number, width and density of vegetation layers, maximum canopy height, leaf area index and vegetation cover) was lowest at intermediate altitudes. Overall, vertical structure was consistently lower in modified than in natural habitat types, whereas horizontal structure was inconsistently different in modified than in natural habitat types, depending on the specific structural measure and habitat type. Our study shows how vertical and horizontal vegetation structure can be assessed efficiently in various habitat types in tropical mountain regions, and we suggest to apply this as a tool for informing future biodiversity and ecosystem service studies.
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