CONSERVATION PRIORITIZATION OF HABITATS AND COMMUNITIES OF TIRTHAN WILDLIFE SANCTUARY, DISTRICT KULLU, HIMACHAL PRADESH, INDIA: A FLORISTIC APPROACH BASED ON POTENTIAL DISTRIBUTION OF VASCULAR PLANT SPECIESShalu Devi Thakur, K.S. Kapoor and S.S. Samant
Present scenario of the biodiversity crisis is unpredictable and unprecedented. Major reasons for the declining trends of biodiversity are loss of habitat and fragmentation. Ever increasing population of humans, climate changes, industrialization and direct exploitation of species from their natural habitats are important causes which are driving species to the brink of extinction and in some cases leading to extinction. To conserve the species in their natural habitats efforts have been made all over the world by establishing protected/ conservation areas as sanctuaries, parks and reserves. Resources being limited, conservational efforts done at the micro level are much significant in achieving this objective. An effort has been done to evaluate and prioritize habitats and communities of a protected area. The present study has been focused on these lines and has identified 11 habitats, 23 forest communities and 15 alpine communities. Amongst identified forest communities, the total tree density ranged from 135.0-670.0 Ind ha-1 and total basal area 5.60-319.08m2 ha-1 and the total shrub density 1490.0-2120.0 Ind ha-1. Each habitat and community has been evaluated for site representation, altitudinal distribution, species richness, native, endemic, socio-economically important and threatened species. Based on cumulative values for these attributes, Conservation Priority Index (CPI) for the habitats and communities has been calculated. Amongst habitats, Dry, Riverine, Shrubbery, Camping site, Dry Alpine Slope and Moist Alpine Slope habitats respectively, showed high CPI, hence prioritized for conservation. Amongst communities, Acer acuminatum-Prunus cornuta mixed, Aesculus indica-Prunus cornuta mixed, Juglans regia-Picea smithiana mixed and Viburnum cotinifolium-Rosa macrophylla-Rhododendron campanulatum mixed communities in the forest zone and Berberis jaeschkeana-Rosa sericea mixed, Lonicera obovata and Salix denticulata-Rosa webbiana mixed communities in the alpine zone respectively, showed high CPI, and hence prioritized for conservation. Monitoring of these prioritized habitats and communities will keep an eye on the structural and functional changes in the natural vegetation and possibilities of habitat alterations due to overexploitation, habitat degradation and invasion by exotic/non-native species and formulate strategies, if required, to conserve them. This would help in the proper management of habitats and communities of the Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuary.
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