Diversity and degradation of the vegetation of mountain belt forests of central Adjara (the Lesser Caucasus), Georgia

https://doi.org/10.17221/80/2020-JFSCitation:

Goginashvili N., Togonidze N., Tvauri I., Manvelidze Z., Memiadze N., Zerbe S., Asanidze Z. (2021): Diversity and degradation of the vegetation of mountain belt forests of central Adjara (the Lesser Caucasus), Georgia. J. For. Sci, 67: 219–241.

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The Colchis forests contribute to the biodiversity hotspot in the Caucasus eco-region. We investigated the plant diversity of these forests in the central part of Adjara (W Georgia). The aims of our study were (i) to differentiate the forest vegetation diversity in the mountain belt forests by means of phytosociology, (ii) to associate endemic taxa with the revealed forest types, and (iii) to assess degradation of the forest vegetation diversity by means of environmental abiotic and biotic factors. We sampled the forest vegetation on 135 plots with the size of 10 × 10 m2 and 237 plant taxa were recorded. Principal Component Analysis (PCA) was used to reduce environmental variables to a few orthogonal composed variables. The derived factors (PC1, PC2) were used in ordination analysis to group the plot measured forest vegetation diversity. One-way ANOVA was used for the comparison of means between the separated clusters in PCA. Two-Way Indicator Species Analysis (TWINSPAN) and Indicator Species Analysis (ISA) were applied for the association of the plant taxa with the vegetation cluster groups separated by PCA. Our analysis revealed two general ecologically distinct forest types which were characterized as dry and humid forests. Endemic species had the main occurrence in dry forests of the studied territory which are heavily impacted by the local land use. The results indicated that the vegetation diversity of dry forests is under higher threat of degradation than that of humid ones because these forests are not protected and are subjected to non-sustainable forest exploitation. Additionally, many rural and invasive plant species change the native plant assemblages. Based on our findings, we recommend to the organization which manages the local forests to find a balance between the use of forest resources and protection of the unique floristic diversity of local forests in order to avoid their degradation.

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