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Species abundance along the railway of Kashmir Himalaya

Citation

Rashid, Irfan et al. (2021), Species abundance along the railway of Kashmir Himalaya, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.0p2ngf20h

Abstract

1. The significant portion of global terrestrial biodiversity harbored in mountains is under increasing threat from a variety of anthropogenic impacts. Protecting fragile mountain ecosystems requires understanding how these human disturbances affect biodiversity. As roads and railways are extended further into mountain ecosystems, understanding the long-term impacts of this infrastructure on community composition and diversity gains urgency.

2. We used railway corridors constructed across the mountainous landscapes of the Kashmir Himalaya from 1994-2013 to study the effects of anthropogenic disturbance on species’ distributions and community dynamics. In 2014 and 2017, we collected vegetation data along 31 T-shaped transects laid perpendicular to the railway line, adopting the MIREN (Mountain Invasion Research Network) road survey methodology. 

3. Plant communities shifted significantly from 2014 to 2017, potentially as a result of ongoing species’ redistribution after railway construction, mostly driven by declines in both native and non-native species richness, and increasing abundance of a few non-native species, especially in areas away from the railway track. 

4. These patterns indicate an advancing succession, where initial – rare – pioneering species are replaced by increasingly dominant and often non-native competitors, and potentially suggest a trend towards delayed local extinctions after the disturbance event. Native and non-native species richness were negatively correlated with elevation, but that relationship diminished over time, with the abundance of non-natives significantly increasing at high elevations. 

5. Synthesis and applications: Transport corridors seem to facilitate the spread of non-native species to higher elevations, which has serious implications in light of the warming mountain tops. Our results indicate that plant communities next to railways do not reach equilibrium quickly after disturbance. More than 10 years after railway establishment succession continued, and signs pointed in the direction of a landscape increasingly dominated by non-native species. Our study indicates that the single disturbance event associated with construction of a railway in the Himalayas had large and long-lasting effects on plant communities at and around this transport corridor, and suggests the need for a long-term region-wide coordinated monitoring and management program. 

Methods

The entire stretch of the railway going through the Kashmir region was divided into 31 sites consisting of 16 stations and 15 between-station sites, spanning an elevational gradient from 1591 to 1741 m a.s.l. All these selected sites were first sampled during 2014 and then resampled during 2017.