The montane subtropical broad-leaved humid forests of Meghalaya (Northeast India) are highly diverse and situated at the transition zone between the Eastern Himalayas and Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspots. In this study, we have used inventory data from seedlings to canopy level to assess the impact of both biotic and abiotic disturbances on structure, composition, and regeneration potential of the Fagaceae trees of these forests. Fagaceae trees are considered as the keystone species in these forests due to their regional dominance and their importance as a fuel wood source, and also because they form an important component of climax community in these forests. Unfortunately, these forests are highly degraded and fragmented due to anthropogenic disturbances. We have assessed, for the first time, the restoration potential (i.e., capacity to naturally regenerate and sustain desired forest structure) of Fagaceae species in the genera Lithocarpus
(D. Don) Spach, and Quercus
Linn. We also evaluated how biotic and abiotic factors, as well as anthropogenic disturbances, influence the restoration potential of these species in six fragmented forest patches located along an elevational gradient on south-facing slopes in the Khasi Hills, Meghalaya. Fagaceae was the most dominant family at all sites except one site (Laitkynsew), where it was co-dominant with Lauraceae. Fagaceae forests have shown high diversity and community assemblages. Fagaceae species had high levels of natural regeneration (i.e., seedlings and saplings) but low recruitment to large trees (diameter at breast height or DBH ≥ 10 cm) at all sites. The ability to sprout was higher in Fagaceae tree species than non-Fagaceae tree species. We have shown that human disturbance and structural diversity were positively related to regeneration of Fagaceae tree species due to high sprouting. However, with increasing human disturbance, recruitment of saplings and pole-sized trees to mature trees hampered the resulting proportion of mature Fagaceae tree species. This study provides a means for assessing regeneration and a basis for forest management strategies in degraded and fragmented forests of Meghalaya.
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