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Biodiversity in tree canopies under changing environmental conditions in Nepal.

Program outline

Human activities result in severe changes in ecosystems. In many areas of the world forest
ecosystems are not only influenced by management traits, also by pollutions from urban areas
with the general result of biodiversity loss. The meaning of biodiversity in ecosystems has
aroused considerable interest and controversy during the past decade but its maintenance is a
generally accepted objective to ensure ecosystem functioning in changing environments. A
major future challenge is to determine how biodiversity dynamics, ecosystem processes,
abiotic factors and human disturbances interact (Loreau et al. 2001).

The property of the forest may form the basis for international funding of forest conservation
and afforestation projects. Global concern to reduce concentrations of greenhouse gases in
order to mitigate global warming has led to the Kyoto Protocol (KP) in 1997, which was
negotiated in Kyoto, Japan (Banskota et al., 2007). The KP became an international treaty
building on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), itself
adopted at the Earth Summit in 1992.

Forests and in particular the forest canopy is one of the most complex and species rich biomes
on earth and canopy research is one of the leading tasks in understanding functional
relationships and conservation of biodiversity (DFG: http://www.biodiversity-
exploratories.de, Global canopy program, http://www.globalcanopy.org). Several recently
published books demonstrate the interest of scientific community in canopy research (Floren
& Schmidl, 2008, Lowman & Rinker, 2004, Basset et al. 2003). On a world wide scale,
canopy research is focussed on few localities that are equipped with canopy cranes, walkways
or other versatile devices for easy canopy access (Basset et al., 2003). Despite advances
toward biodiversity and functional relations fundamental biological knowledge of canopy
communities remains poor.

Recent studies on canopy biota dealt with epiphytes or animals in tree crowns but these two
components of the ecosystem were seldom linked to each other (but see Stuntz et al. 1999,
Armbruster et al, 2002, Stuntz et al. 2003, Yanioviak et al. 2003). Several studies have been
carried out in epiphytes world wide (e.g. Gentry and Dodson 1987, Madison 1977, Benzing

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1990, Wolf 1993 a, b, 1994, Heitz 1999, Neider et al. 2001, Bradley et al. 2008). Epiphytes
grow on trees or shrubs without directly harming the host palnts and maintained them in
ephemeral conditions of environmental stochasticity (Benzing 1990). The vascular epiphytes
comprise about 10 % of the world's total vascular flora (Madison 1977) and attain their peak
species diversities in tropical and subtropical forests (Gentry and Dodson 1987, Heitz 1999,
Chaudhary et al. 2002, Ghimire 2008). They are very sensitive to microclimate and
disturbance and seem to be good bioindicators for forest biodiversity management (Hietz
1999). Although epiphytes are presumed as small components among forest communities,
they play a vital role in ecosystem and thus act as key stone species (Benzing 2004). That they
produce relatively high amount of organic matter and have ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen
and restore atmospheric moisture lost from ecosystem. On other hand afford food, shelter and
breeding sites for arboreal canopy dwelling animals.

Forest canopy animals were subject of many studies in last decades with the general outcome
of a very diverse and species rich fauna in that stratum (Storck et al. 1997). Several
hypotheses were discussed and accepted to explain high diversity in the canopy, however they
were tested rarely with real data sets. Several studies on canopy arthropods have been
conducted by scientists of the Chair of Animal Ecology for more than one decade (in
collaboration with the former Chair of Land use Planning and Nature Conservation for many
years). Canopy ecology is also part of academic education at TUM. Most of the work was
done on the vertical and horizontal distribution of arthropods within forest canopy (e.g.
Gruppe et al. 2008), the value of forest structure on arthropod diversity (Ammer et al. 2008,
Herbig et al. 2008, Gruppe & Sobeck, in press), and the impact of abiotic stress on
communities (SFB 607, BFN).

We intended to iniciate a joint programm on biodiversity and ecosystem function in the


subtropic region of the Himalayas in Nepal. Research will focuss on forest canopies and in
particular interactions between epiphytic plants and arthropods under changing environmental
conditions in Katmandu valley and Shivapuri National park. The basic activity includes the
survey of epiphytic plants and arthropods within tree crowns of forest trees. Moreover, data of
tree crown architecture and structures (necromass, cavities, phytothelms etc.) will be
collected. Environmental conditions relevant to epiphytes and arthropods will be described by
factors: (i) management system (Shivapuri national park north of valley, Godavari community
managed forest south-east of valley, Pashupati forest urban green), (ii) tree species (three

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common forest tree species). Abundance, diversity, and distribution of epiphytes will be
surveyed within tree crowns, arthropods will be captured by flight interception traps in the
core of the same trees througout the year. Thus, basic data on biodiversity in the tree crown
ecosystem in the Himalayas in a gradient of management systems will be obtained. Data of
epiphytes and arthropods will be correlated to each other to study there interrelation within
the canopy. In addition to the basic survey other experiments will be conducted to test
particular hypotheses. Principle technique for canopy access and work within tree crowns will
be single rope climbing and trapping systems for arthropods.

From this design we can contribute to the following questions important for ecology and
nature conservation:

1) What is the impact of forest management, air pollution, stand structure, tree
architecture etc. on epiphyte and arthropod diversity?
2) Are different tree species (tree crown architecture, structures in tree crown, exposure
to sun or rain, etc.) habitat for communities of differing diversity?
3) Are epiphytes impotrant to sustain high animal diversity (rare and threatened species)
within tree crowns?

The scientific program will also be the nucleus for teaching students methods of canopy
research and for exchange of scientists and students.

We suggest a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Faculty ‘Center of Life and


Food Sciences Weihenstephan’ of Technische Universität München and by both ‘Central
Department of Botany’ and ‘Natural History Museum’ of Tribhuvan University Katmandu.

Funding of a first project will be requested from DFG or other funding agencies.

Involved scientists:
Technische Universität München: Prof. Dr. A. Fischer, Yagya Adhikari (Geobotany), Dr.
A. Gruppe (Animal Ecology)
Tribhuvan University Katmandu: Prof. Dr. K. K. Shrestha, Anil Sharma (Central
Department of Botany), Dr. Ishan Gautam (Natural Histrory Museum), Arjun Thapa (Central
Department of Zoology).

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