Stone walls and sacred forest conservation in Ethiopia
- 234 Downloads
Many tropical forests worldwide are protected due to their sacredness to religious communities. In the south Gondar region of Ethiopia, most of the remaining native forests are tiny fragments (5.42 ha ± 0.34) surrounded by pasture and agriculture that are protected because they encompass churches of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church (EOTC). A small number of communities have erected stone walls around the perimeter of the forests to demarcate the boundary, and/or protect the interior of the forest. We evaluated the effectiveness of these walls at protecting ecological conditions by examining tree and seedling communities among sacred forests with and without walls in Montane and Upper Montane sites. We found the wall to be an effective conservation tool as regeneration potential was higher in forests with a wall. The density and species richness of seedlings were significantly higher in forests with a wall and these effects were more pronounced in Upper Montane forests. Forests with a wall also had seedlings of many native tree species that were not found in forests without walls. As expected, there were few differences in tree communities in forests with and without a wall. Although rare on the landscape, the presence of a stone wall around these forests was effective at protecting the seedling community because it likely reduced access to the forests by grazers and directed human visitors to trails. The use of a stone wall may protect seedling communities in other sacred forest fragments, particularly for those that are small, isolated, surrounded by agriculture, and have a depleted seed bank.
KeywordsAfromontane forest Church forest Deforestation Forest fragmentation Regeneration potential Seedlings
We would like to thank Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church Diocese officials, respected church priests and monks in South Gondar for allowing us to conduct research in their sacred forests. We would also like to thank undergraduate students K. Jensen and J. Hair for help with field work. This research was supported by a grant to the authors from the Picker Interdisciplinary Science Institute at Colgate University.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
- Alelign A, Teketay D, Yemshaw Y, Edwards S (2007) Diversity and status of regeneration of woody plants on the peninsula of Zegie, northwestern Ethiopia. Trop Ecol 48:37–49Google Scholar
- Allen RB, Payton IJ, Knowlton JE (1984) Effects of ungulates on structure and species composition of the Urewera forests as shown by exclosures. N Z J Ecol 7:119–130Google Scholar
- Bongers F, Wassie A, Sterck FJ et al (2006) Ecological restoration and church forests in northern Ethiopia. J Drylands 1:35–44Google Scholar
- Cardelús CL, Scull P, Wassie Eshete A, Woods CL, Klepeis P, Kent E, Orlowska I (in review) Shadow conservation and the persistence of church forests in northern Ethiopia. BiotropicaGoogle Scholar
- Chatterjee S, Gokhale Y, Malhotra KC, Srivastava S (2004) Sacred groves in India: an overview. Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya, BhopalGoogle Scholar
- Chazdon RL, Colwell RK, Denslow JS, Guariguata MR (1998) Statistical methods for estimating species richness of woody regeneration in primary and secondary rain forests of NE Costa Rica. In: Dallmeier F, Comiskey JA (eds) Forest biodiversity research, monitoring and modelling: conceptual background and Old World case studies. Parthenon Publishing Group, Paris, pp 285–309Google Scholar
- Colwell RK (2013) EstimateS: Statistical estimation of species richness and shared species from samples. Version 9 and earlier. User’s Guide and applicationGoogle Scholar
- Gadgil M, Vartak V (1975) Sacred groves of India: a plea for continued conservation. J Bombay Nat Hist Soc 72:313–320Google Scholar
- Juhé-Beaulaton D (2008) Sacred forests and the global challenge of biodiversity conservation: the case of Benin and Togo. J Study Relig Nature, Cult 2:351–372Google Scholar
- Klepeis P, Orlowska IA, Kent EF, et al Ethiopian Church Forests: A Hybrid Model of Protection. Hum Ecol (in press)Google Scholar
- Mwikomeke ST, Msangi TH, Mabula CK, Nummelin M (2000) Plant species richness in the traditionally protected forests of Zigua, Handeni district, Tanzania. Silva Carelica 34:178–193Google Scholar
- Oksanen J, Guillaume Blanchet F, Kindt R, et al (2010) Vegan: community ecology packageGoogle Scholar
- R Development Core Team (2009) R: a language and environment for statistical computingGoogle Scholar
- UNESCO (2003) Linking universal and local values: managing a sustainable future for World Heritage. ParisGoogle Scholar