Journal of Mountain Science

Epiphytic orchids and their ecological niche under anthropogenic influence in central Himalayas, Nepal

Abstract The survival chance of epiphytic orchids today not only depends on the natural site conditions required by the orchids but also on anthropogenic changes in site conditions. This study answers two questions: (1) What is the ecological niche of the different epiphytic orchid species? (2) What are the ecological factors that threaten epiphytic orchid’s population under anthropogenic disturbances? Our study area was the Kathmandu valley, Nepal, with its subtropical forest. We established 156 systematically selected sampling points in the Kathmandu area covering different types of ecosystems under human impacts such as densely populated area, agricultural land, mixed agricultural and settled area, old tree patches, and a natural forest in a national park. The ecological niche of the orchid species was analyzed with a principal component analysis (PCA). The correlations between the different site factors were statistically significant. Spearman’s rank correlation matrices showed that the variables land-use intensities with altitude, and height with diameter in breast height (dbh) of host had the highest significant positive correlation coefficient (0.67 and 0.64 respectively). On the other hand, host bark pH and altitude as well as land use had a significantly strong negative correlation coefficient (−0.80 and −0.61, respectively). Different epiphytic orchid species interact differently with the given set of environmental factors: for occurrence of Vanda cristata there is no single environmental factor of special influence, while for Rhynchostylis retusa high bark pH and high light availability are important. First two axis of the PCA explained more than 50% of the total variance. Most orchid species occupy a specific, narrow niche in this ecological space. The main causes of anthropogenic influence of orchid population in the Kathmandu Valley are loss of adequate host trees (species and size) and increasing air pollution, resulting in increasing host bark pH.

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