Publication details

Alluvial alder forests of the Greater Caucasus, Georgia: ecology, habitats and variability



Year of publication 2023
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Tuexenia
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Science

Keywords Alluvium; Alno glutinosae-Populetea albae; Caucasus; forest; phytosociology; riparian community; vegetation classification
Description The Caucasus Region belongs among the most remarkable biodiversity hotspots globally. Local mountain floodplain forests represent highly endangered ecosystems and possess the status of protective forests. However, they have not been extensively phytosociologically assessed using Braun-Blanquet methods to date. Here, we present a novel dataset of vegetation plots recorded in two remarkable areas of forest plant diversity in this region. They were Enguri (Black Sea watershed) and Aragvi (Caspian Sea watershed) River basins in the Western and Eastern Greater Caucasus, respectively. Based on 49 releves, sampled on a broad elevation gradient (980-1830 m), we distinguished three vegetation types using unsupervised classification. Main gradients in their species composition reflect biogeographical and climatic differences. Alnus incana dominated two types. The Enguri type (Brunnero macrophyllae-Alnetum incanae) was characterized by numerous species typical of the western part of the Greater Caucasus, including tall forbs and mountain species. The Aragvi type (Veronico filiformis-Alnetum incanae) showed a diagnostic combination of common Caucasian species and relatively thermophilous forest species. The subdivision of this unit included three subtypes according to grazing intensity. The last type (Sedo stoloniferi-Alnetum barbatae) was significant by a putative Tertiary relict Alnus glutinosa subsp. barbata as a canopy dominant. It occupied lower elevations of the Enguri Region, significantly influenced by the nearby Colchic Region. To provide a regional context of the sampled vegetation, we compiled an expanded dataset of alluvial alder forests from the Caucasus and its surroundings. Their joint classification highlighted the uniqueness of the recorded communities with A. incana and clearly distinguished them from the Euxinian alliance Alnion barbatae delimited by relict species typical of the Colchic refugium (e.g. Diospyros lotus, Pterocarya fraxinifolia). A comparison of the Caucasian A. incana forests with the alluvial forests of the boreonemoral alliance Alnion incanae supported the individuality of the Caucasian stands in terms of floristic composition and allowed us to describe them as a new alliance (Veronico filiformis-Alnion incanae all. nova). It is characterized by the dominance of A. incana accompanied by numerous geographically restricted species (e.g. Senecio propinquus, Symphytum asperum) coupled with boreo-montane forest species (e.g. Oxalis acetosella, Polygonatum verticillatum). Caucasian alluvial forests face many ongoing threats, including constructing of new water reservoirs and hydropower plants, overgrazing and illegal cutting.
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