Large swathes of arable fields have been abandoned in many areas of the world over the last few decades driven by a multitude of local and broader-scale factors. Many former fields experience a change in vegetation composition and structure post-abandonment, typically through a process of plant succession. The changes in species and abundance mean that the nature and quantity of ecosystem services provided by the former fields also varies. We examined the types of provisioning services obtained from non-timber forest products (NTFPs) with increasing age since field abandonment. We sampled 43 former fields ranging in age since abandonment from approximately 7 to 55 years, and seven plots in intact forests. We held seven focus group discussions with local residents to determine uses of species found in the former fields. Plant cover and species richness increased with former field age, although old field community composition was also influenced by soil chemistry. Of the 177 species recorded, 70 (40%) had one or more uses, spanning six NTFP categories namely, food, building, medicinal, craft, cultural and energy. The number of NTFP species increased with increasing age of the former field, but the proportion of NTFP species declined from 80% in the youngest former fields to 65% in the oldest ones, which were similar to the 63% recorded within intact forests. The youngest former fields had more medicinal species than the older ones, as the abundance and diversity of herbaceous species declined with increasing woody plant cover. Species used for building and food (especially fruits) peaked when the former fields became dominated by woody plants. NTFPs used for craft were most abundant in the oldest sites.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited