Forest regrowth reduces richness and abundance of invasive alien plant species in community managed Shorea robusta forests of central Nepal.
Background: Natural forests are generally considered to be less prone to biological invasions than other modified ecosystems, particularly when canopy cover is high. Few decades of management of degraded forests by local communities in Nepal has increased canopy cover and altered disturbance regimes. These changes might have reduced the abundance of invasive alien plant species (IAPS) in forests. To understand the status of IAPS in such forests, we studied two community managed Shorea robusta forests (Sundari and Dhusheri) of Nawalpur district in central Nepal. In these two forests, vegetation sampling was done using circular plots 10 m radius at forest edge, gaps, and within canopy. Variation of IAPS richness and cover across these microhabitats were compared, and their variation with tree canopy cover and basal area analyzed. Result: Altogether 14 IAPS were recorded in the study forests; among them Chromolaena odorata, Ageratum houstonianum, and Lantana camara had the highest frequency. Mikania micrantha was at the early stage of colonization in Sundari Community Forest (CF) but absent in Dhuseri CF. Both IAPS cover and richness was higher at forest edge and gap than in canopy plots and both these attributes declined with increasing canopy cover and tree basal area. Conclusion: The results indicate that increase in canopy cover and closure of forest gaps through participatory management of degraded forests can prevent plant invasions and suppress the growth of previously established IAPS in Shorea robusta forests of Nepal. This is the unacknowledged benefit of participatory forest management in Nepal.