Tropical forests generally host high biodiversity and are important sources of ecological, socio-cultural and economic services. There are also many sacred forests in many parts of the world, including burial sites in Gobeya rural administrative, having a significant ecological and socio-economic value. This study aims to quantify species diversity, abundance and vegetation structure, and also to determine the ecological importance of woody plant species in burial forest sites. The study was carried out between February and April, 2015 in Gobeya rural administrative which is located approximately at 430 km North of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Three largest burial sites (Sideni, Merma and Gubahil) were inventoried where three quadrats of 20 × 20 m at 100 m interval around the edge, and other three quadrats of 20 × 20 m at 50 m interval around the interior were randomly laid. A total of 28 woody plant species belonging to 19 families and 26 genera were identified. Analysis of species rarefaction curve at 95% confidence level reveals that Sideni cemetery site tends to have the highest species richness (α-diversity, n=22) with a possibility of finding new species. Estimation of total species richness using Chao-1 also shows that Sideni site to have the highest richness (n=25). Similarly, non-metric multi-dimensional scaling (MDS) ordination shows that Sideni burial site appears to have the highest species turnover (β-diversity). This is probably due to the presence of an intermediate disturbance in Sideni burial forest site. On the other hand, Acokanthera schimperi (A. DC.) Benth. & Hook. f. (Apocynaceae) is the most abundant tree (56.32%) in Sideni site while Carissa edulis (Forssk.) Vahl (Apocynaceae) is the most abundant shrub in Merma site (29.34%) and Gubahil site (38.13%). In this regard, religious teaching takes the highest social motive behind the tradition of protecting burial sites in the study area. Burial sites provide many socio-economic services including firewood, construction products, livestock forage, medicinal plants and other household products. They also play as important refugia for wild animals such as hyena, fox, porcupine, monkey and many other bird species. So, protection of burial sites should be ensured over long terms, and the indigenous practices of protecting burial forest sites should be preserved. Therefore, burial sites can be delineated as an important landscape to protect and preserve these socio-economically important plant species.
Key words: Burial forest, diversity, abundance, species richness, species composition, multi-dimensional
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