PhytoKeys 2019 16;131:91-113. Epub 2019 Sep 16.
CAS Key Laboratory of Plant Germplasm Enhancement and Specialty Agriculture, Wuhan Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan 430074, Hubei, China East African Herbarium, National Museums of Kenya Nairobi Kenya.
Distribution patterns of biodiversity and the factors influencing them are important in conservation and management strategies of natural resources. With impending threats from increased human population and global climatic changes, there is an urgent need for a comprehensive understanding of these patterns, more so in species-rich tropical montane ecosystems where little is known about plant diversity and distribution. Vascular species richness along elevation and climatic gradients of Aberdare ranges forest were explored. A total of 1337 species in 137 families, 606 genera, 82 subspecies and 80 varieties were recorded. Correlations, simple linear regression and Partial least square regression analysis were used to assess richness and diversity patterns of total plants, herbs, shrubs, climbers, arboreal and endemic species from 2000-4000 m above sea level. Total plant species richness showed a monotonic declining relationship with elevation with richness maxima at 2000-2100 m a.s.l., while endemic species richness had a positive unimodal increase along elevation with peaks at 3600-3700 m a.s.l. Herbs, shrubs, climbers and arboreal had significant negative relationships with altitude, excluding endemism which showed positive relations. In contrast, both air and soil temperatures had positive relationships with taxa richness groups and negative relations with endemic species. Elevation was found to have higher relative influence on plant richness and distribution in Aberdare ranges forest. For effective conservation and management of biodiversity in Aberdare, localized dynamic conservation interventions are recommended in contrast to broad and static strategies. Establishment of conservation zones and migration corridors are necessary to safeguard biodiversity in line with envisaged global climatic vicissitudes.