Plant density and life history traits of Aconitum spicatum in North-central Nepal: effects of elevation and anthropogenic disturbances

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Deep J. Chapagain, Henrik Meilby, Suresh K. Ghimire

Increasing cross-border trade of medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) has put heavy pressure on a considerable number of species in the Himalayas. One of the threatened species in Nepal is Aconitum spicatum. Unfortunately for this species and for many others, our knowledge on population ecology and performance across the distribution range is insufficient, hindering the formulation of species-specific management plans. We therefore studied density and population structure of A. spicatum and assessed variation in its life history traits among three populations (subalpine, lower alpine and alpine) along an elevation gradient (3,000–4,200 m a.s.l.) in Annapurna Conservation Area, north-central Nepal. The results show that human disturbances and topographic factors contributed to the variation in density and life history traits. The overall density ranged between 0.56 ± 0.09 (Mean ± SE) and 2.48 ± 0.24 plants/m2 with highest mean density in the lower alpine and lowest in the subalpine population. The subalpine population was also characterized by lower investment in reproductive structures with lowest seed mass and low seed viability and fecundity. Among the environmental variables tested, harvesting, animal droppings and fire appeared to be the most important factors affecting density of different life stages of A. spicatum. The prevailing harvesting pattern is destructive as it involves uprooting of the whole plant and this appears to be a main reason for low recruitment and reduced density of the subalpine population. The level of disturbance decreased with increasing elevation. In terms of reproductive effort, the alpine population performed best. Our results indicate that the viability of A. spicatum populations depends on controlling over-harvesting and pre-mature harvesting of tubers and protecting younger life stages from grazing, trampling and fire. We therefore recommend that when formulating management guidelines, measures aiming to mitigate such anthropogenic disturbances should be considered.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere7574
JournalPeerJ
Volume7
ISSN2167-8359
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019

ID: 228691818