The natural forests in north western Ethiopia have been dwindling at an alarming rate. However, church forests are found as a spot in each community serving as unique and conspicuous in situ conservation of indigenous species. Five church forests with adjacent degraded forests were surveyed to investigate the functional distance and diversity. Fifty woody species were identified both from the church and adjacent degraded forests and have 34 species in common (Sj = 0.68). Eleven new species were recorded in the adjacent degraded forest, but five species which were found in the church forest disappeared. The average functional distances between woody species were 22.3 ± 14.4 (mean ± SD) and 23.8 ± 17.0 for church and adjacent degraded forests, respectively. Dominant woody species were functionally dissimilar. Functional distances between 10 minor of the church and 10 dominant of adjacent degraded forest species were significantly different (c2 = 12.24, P = 0.01), suggesting that minor species have offered insurance. Passenger species and some of the dominant species in the church forest have also offered insurance. Functional distance which is a cumulative effect of functional attributes is a proxy for ecological elasticity to disturbances and helps in forest management decisions.
Key words: Church forests, degraded forests, ecosystem, functional attributes, relative abundance, resilience.
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