Impact of anthropogenic disturbance on species diversity and vegetation structure of a lowland tropical rainforest of Eastern Himalaya, India.
Impact of anthropogenic disturbance on species diversity and vegetation structure of a lowland tropical rainforest was studied in the foothills of Eastern Himalaya, India. Tree species richness, density, basal area and the diversity indices were found significantly (P<0.05) decreased with the increasing level of disturbances whereas, shrub density, basal area and herb density significantly increased with increasing disturbance level. In case of shrubs, Simpson's dominance index significantly (P<0.007) increased along the disturbance gradient, whereas Pielou's evenness index significantly (P<0.005) decreased with an increasing level of disturbance. Shannon-Weiner diversity index for herbs significantly (P<0.016) increased with increasing disturbance whereas, Simpson's dominance index was significantly (P<0.013) declined along the disturbance gradient. Results revealed that 10-50 cm dbh classes constituted the highest stem density, and highest basal area was recorded in the >100 cm dbh class in all three sites. Density of the matured trees decreased with increasing DBH whereas, tree basal area tended to increase with increasing DBH in all three sites. Tree species richness was highest in the lower DBH classes. 62.07% of the total tree species regenerated in the largely undisturbed site followed by 50% in the mildly disturbed and 26.32% in the highly disturbed site. The overall regeneration condition was found to be good in the largely undisturbed site. Mildly disturbed site exhibited fair regeneration and so was in the highly disturbed site. Discernable variations in species composition, diversity, regeneration and tree population structure revealed the impact of anthropogenic disturbances on rainforest vegetation dynamics. Higher degree of disturbance was furtherly found not only affecting species diversity but also promoting the growth of invasive weed species. Dominance of Hydnocarpus kurzii and Crypteronia paniculata in the highly disturbed site also indicated that these less-valued timber species may benefit from the vegetation mosaic produced by the disturbance; so differences in abundance of these species may be useful for bio-indication. Furthermore, present study suggests the need of adequate biodiversity conservation measures and adaptation of sustainable forest management approaches in disturbed areas of lowland tropical rainforest in the foothills of eastern Himalaya, India.