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Spatiotemporal Distribution Patterns of Climbers along an Abiotic Gradient in Jhelum District, Punjab, Pakistan

Spatiotemporal Distribution Patterns of Climbers along an Abiotic Gradient in Jhelum District,... Article Spatiotemporal Distribution Patterns of Climbers along an Abiotic Gradient in Jhelum District, Punjab, Pakistan 1 , † 2 , † 3 , 4 5 6 Muhammad Majeed , Linlin Lu , Sheikh Marifatul Haq , Muhammad Waheed , Hakim Ali Sahito , 1 7 4 8 , 9 , 10 Sammer Fatima , Robina Aziz , Rainer W. Bussmann , Aqil Tariq * , Israr Ullah and Muhammad Aslam Department of Botany, University of Gujrat, Hafiz Hayat Campus, Gujrat 50700, Pakistan Key Laboratory of Digital Earth Science, Aerospace Information Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100094, China Clybay Research Private Limited, Bangalore 560114, India Department of Ethnobotany, Institute of Botany, Ilia State University, 0105 Tbilisi, Georgia Department of Botany, University of Okara, Okara 56300, Pakistan Department of Zoology, Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur 66020, Pakistan Department of Botany, Government College, Women University Sialkot, Sialkot 51310, Pakistan State Key Laboratory of Information Engineering in Surveying, Mapping and Remote Sensing, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430079, China Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mississippi State University, 775 Stone Boulevard, Starkville, MS 39762, USA Division of Earth Sciences and Geography, RWTH Aachen University, 52062 Aachen, Germany School of Computing Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of West of Scotland, Paisley G72 0LH, UK * Correspondence: aqiltariq@whu.edu.cn or at2139@msstate.edu † These authors contributed equally to this work. Citation: Majeed, M.; Lu, L.; Haq, Abstract: Climber–abiotic parameter interactions can have important ramifications for ecosystem’s S.M.; Waheed, M.; Sahito, H.A.; functions and community dynamics, but the extent to which these abiotic factors influence the spatial Fatima, S.; Aziz, R.; Bussmann, R.W.; distributions of climber communities in the western Himalayas is unknown. The purpose of this Tariq, A.; Ullah, I.; et al. study was to examine the taxonomic diversity, richness, and distribution patterns of climbers in Spatiotemporal Distribution Patterns relation to abiotic variables in the Jhelum District. The data were collected from 120 random transects of Climbers along an Abiotic between 2019 and 2021, from 360 sites within triplet quadrats (1080 quadrats), and classification Gradient in Jhelum District, Punjab, and ordination analyses were used to categorize the sample transects. A total of 38 climber species Pakistan. Forests 2022, 13, 1244. belonging to 25 genera and 11 families were recorded from the study area. The Convolvulaceae were https://doi.org/10.3390/f13081244 the dominant family (26.32%), followed by the Apocynaceae (21.05%), and Leguminosae (15.79%). Academic Editors: Sonja Vospernik The majority of the climbers were herbaceous in nature (71.05%), followed by woody (23.68%). Based and Klaus Katzensteiner on the relative density, the most dominant species was Vicia sativa (12.74). The majority of the species Received: 28 April 2022 flowered during the months of March–April (28.04%), followed by August–September (26.31%). Accepted: 2 August 2022 Abiotic factors have a significant influence on the distribution pattern and structure of climbers in Published: 6 August 2022 the study area. The results show that the climbers react to the biotic environment in different ways. The findings will serve as the foundation for future botanical inventories and will be crucial for Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral understanding the biological, ecological, and economic value of climbers in forest ecosystems. This with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affil- will help forest management, conservation, and ecological restoration in the Himalayas. iations. Keywords: climbers; distribution patterns; ecological restoration; abiotic variables Copyright: © 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. 1. Introduction This article is an open access article Plants that are rooted in the ground but require assistance to support their weak stems distributed under the terms and are known as climbers. They are common, particularly in all tropical forests, but are found conditions of the Creative Commons in almost all ecosystems and actively compete with trees for light and space [1]. Climbers Attribution (CC BY) license (https:// (woody and herbaceous) provide an important ecological and structural component in creativecommons.org/licenses/by/ forest and early successional habitats. They function as a physical connection between the 4.0/). Forests 2022, 13, 1244. https://doi.org/10.3390/f13081244 https://www.mdpi.com/journal/forests Forests 2022, 13, 1244 2 of 16 ground and the canopy layer [2,3]. Despite the obvious abundance of climbing plants in some regions, past community studies largely overlooked climbers and their ecology. Their significance in succession and other community dynamics has recently been studied more closely [4,5]. Climbers and lianas play a vital role in forest ecology, contributing to the overall plant diversity [6,7]. However, climbers contribute substantially less to the overall abundance, variety, and structure in temperate forests than they do in tropical forests [8,9]. In temperate climates, lianas are often sparse (particularly in northern North America and Europe) [6,10]. In terms of function, lianas have a variety of pollination, dispersal, and phenological systems and supply a variety of resources to animals (e.g., foliar, floral, and fruit); additionally, lianas play an important part in the preservation of biological diversity [11]. The spread of climber species throughout the landscape is influenced by the same environmental gradients that drive other types of plant development, such as rainfall, light, topography, soil moisture, seasonality, and soil fertility [12]. Environmental and host tree features vary depending on the habitat’s successional stage. Climbers such as lianas and other climbers are more common in early successional environments with canopy gaps [13]. The diversity and abundance of liana species vary greatly from one forest to the next and between forest locations. Over the last two decades, researchers have focused on identifying liana abundance and distribution patterns in various ecosystems as well as understanding the underlying causes of these patterns [4,14]. Despite the lack of sufficient research, climbers and lianas (woody vines) are important forms of forest growth. However, the diversity and distribution of forest climbers and lianas around the world have been studied in several research projects, especially in Africa [1,2,6,15], in South America [7], Central America [6], and in Asia [16]. Even though climbers comprise a large percentage of the vegetation composition in the Himalayas, particularly in Pakistan, climbers have been practically disregarded in prior floristic research. The associations of climatic and edaphic factors have significant effects that can control the vegetation types, their composition and structure, and their distribution patterns. Therefore, this influence upon the variations on the vegetation patterns in the studied district should be monitored on a regular basis to conserve the threatened species. The current research hypothesizes that the vegetation patterns of the Jhelum district are greatly influenced by a novel indigenous environment and climate and aims to discover the following objectives and unanswered questions for the very first time. With this research gap in mind, we devised the following aims for the current study: (I) to evaluate the composition, diversity, and distribution patterns of climbers in the study area; (II) to determine which group of abiotic factors determine the association pattern in the region; (III) to use a multivariate approach to examine the relationship between climbers and abiotic parameters in the region; and finally, (IV) to determine the potential factors underlying the observed patterns. Upon discovering the answers to these questions, our study will help fill a gap in the knowledge of the Himalayas and the world’s mountainous areas in general. This research will have implications for forest management, conservation, and the ecological restoration of the Himalayan landscape. 2. Materials and Methods 2.1. Study Area The Jhelum district in Pakistan is located to the north of the Jhelum River and is bordered to the north by Rawalpindi, to the south by Sargodha and Gujrat, to the east by Azad Kashmir, and to the west by Chakwal district [17,18]. The district is a semi-arid, warm, and subtropical region with hot summers and harsh winters. Jhelum is a semi-mountainous range with an average annual rainfall of 880 mm and an average temperature of 23.6 C [19]. The Jhelum River comprises about 98,800 ha of plains and another 16,500 ha of hilly terrain (Figure 1). Jhelum is home to the world’s 2nd largest salt mine (Khewra), which occupies about 900 ha. People in the Jhelum district have a broad range of life experiences, cultures, customs, and beliefs and have long used local plants for a variety of purposes [20,21]. Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 3 of 18 Azad Kashmir, and to the west by Chakwal district [17,18]. The district is a semi-arid, warm, and subtropical region with hot summers and harsh winters. Jhelum is a semi- mountainous range with an average annual rainfall of 880 mm and an average tempera- ture of 23.6 °C [19]. The Jhelum River comprises about 98,800 ha of plains and another nd 16,500 ha of hilly terrain (Figure 1). Jhelum is home to the world’s 2 largest salt mine (Khewra), which occupies about 900 ha. People in the Jhelum district have a broad range Forests 2022, 13, 1244 3 of 16 of life experiences, cultures, customs, and beliefs and have long used local plants for a variety of purposes [20,21]. Figure 1. Map of Jhelum district displaying the sampling sites [17]. Figure 1. Map of Jhelum district displaying the sampling sites [17]. 2.2. Fieldwork 2.2. Fieldwork A comprehensive field survey was carried out from 2019 to 2021, exploring the botani- A comprehensive field survey was carried out from 2019 to 2021, exploring the bo- cal diversity of Jhelum. Plants were collected and photographed during the field survey. tanical diversity of Jhelum. Plants were collected and photographed during the field sur- Flora of Pakistan (http://www.efloras.org, accessed on 6 May 2021) and other sources vey. Flora of Pakistan (http://www.efloras.org, accessed on 6 May 2021) and other sources of floristic literature were used to determine the species in the region [22,23]. The col- of floristic literature were used to determine the species in the region [22,23]. The collected lected plant specimens were marked with voucher numbers, pressed, properly dried, plant specimens were marked with voucher numbers, pressed, properly dried, and and mounted on international standard-sized herbarium sheets and preserved at the mounted on international standard-sized herbarium sheets and preserved at the Depart- Department of Botany, University of Gujrat, Punjab, Pakistan. The currently accepted ment of Botany, University of Gujrat, Punjab, Pakistan. The currently accepted binomials binomials of each plant species, as well as the family names, follow the plant list ver. 1.1 of each plant species, as well as the family names, follow the plant list ver. 1.1 (http://www.theplantlist.org, accessed on 11 March 2021) (TPL, 2013), as proposed by (http://www.theplantlist.org, accessed on 11 March 2021) (TPL, 2013), as proposed by Majeed et al. [20] and Khan et al. [22], after the initial identification of specimens. Majeed et al. [20] and Khan et al. [22], after the initial identification of specimens. 2.3. Plant Sampling 2.3. Plant Sampling Ecological data for climbers were collected by the transect method. A total of 120 tran- Ecological data for climbers were collected by the transect method. A total of 120 sects of 1 hectare (100 m ) were laid randomly throughout the study area. Five quadrats of transec 2 ts of 1 hectare (100 m ) were laid randomly throughout the study area. Five quad- 20 m each for climbers and host trees were systematically set in each transect [1,3,14,24]. rats of 20 m each for climbers and host trees were systematically set in each transect Elevation and coordinates of each transect were measured using a Garmin e Trex [25]. [1,3,14,24]. Elevation and coordinates of each transect were measured using a Garmin e Moreover, the slope and aspects of each transect were measured using a compass. In each Trex [25]. Moreover, the slope and aspects of each transect were measured using a com- quadrat, the density of climbers and host plants was calculated [1,26]. pass. In each quadrat, the density of climbers and host plants was calculated [1,26]. 2.4. Soil Sampling From each transect, three soil samples were collected randomly (0–30 cm). The col- lected samples were then merged to create a composite sample, which was then stored in polythene bags and labeled for laboratory analysis. A digital pH meter was used to determine electrical conductivity (EC) and pH from soil water extracts. The organic matter was determined using the Walkley–Black method [27], which was further refined by [28], and the total nitrogen content was determined using the [27] Kjeldahl method. The contents of potassium (K) and phosphorus (P) were measured [28]. CaCo content was determined by acid–base neutralization. Moisture content in soil samples was determined using a Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 18 2.4. Soil Sampling From each transect, three soil samples were collected randomly (0–30 cm). The col- lected samples were then merged to create a composite sample, which was then stored in polythene bags and labeled for laboratory analysis. A digital pH meter was used to deter- mine electrical conductivity (EC) and pH from soil water extracts. The organic matter was determined using the Walkley–Black method [27], which was further refined by [28], and the total nitrogen content was determined using the [27] Kjeldahl method. The contents Forests 2022, 13, 1244 4 of 16 of potassium (K) and phosphorus (P) were measured [28]. CaCo3 content was determined by acid–base neutralization. Moisture content in soil samples was determined using a ScalTec moisture analyzer set to 110 °C. The saturation percentage was estimated using ScalTec moisture analyzer set to 110 C. The saturation percentage was estimated using the the formula [28,29] given below formula [28,29] given below Saturation = Mass of wet soil−Mass of oven dry soil × 100/Mass of oven dry soil. Saturation = Mass of wet soil Mass of oven dry soil  100/Mass of oven dry soil. 2.5. Data Analysis 2.5. Data Analysis Plant IVI and stand-level soil data were calculated and analyzed using ordination Plant IVI and stand-level soil data were calculated and analyzed using ordination The The data from 120 transects were entered into an MS Excel spreadsheet [1,28]. Cluster data from 120 transects were entered into an MS Excel spreadsheet [1,28]. Cluster analysis analysis was used to divide climbers into groups. For cluster analysis, the specific density was used to divide climbers into groups. For cluster analysis, the specific density of each of each plant present in the 80 transects was used as the starting point. The optimal prun- plant present in the 80 transects was used as the starting point. The optimal pruning point ing point for the dendrogram was determined using Ward’s technique. PAST software for the dendrogram was determined using Ward’s technique. PAST software (version 4.07) (version 4.07) was used to determine the clusters and diversity indices for each group of was used to determine the clusters and diversity indices for each group of clusters [30–32]. clusters [30–32]. The Pearson correlation between abiotic and non-biotic variables was cal- The Pearson correlation between abiotic and non-biotic variables was calculated using culated using the R program [33]. To investigate the impact of environmental gradients the R program [33]. To investigate the impact of environmental gradients on species on species co composition,mposition, the softwarth e CANOCO e softwareversion CANO4.5 CO[ v 31 e,rs 34 ion 4. –36] was 5 [31, u3 sed 4–3to 6] was perform useCanonical d to per- form Ca Correspondence nonical Correspondence Ana Analysis (CCA), which lysis was (CCA then ), wh detr ich was ended.then d The overall etrendworking ed. The overall pattern is given in Figure 2. working pattern is given in Figure 2. Figure 2. Figure 2.Jhelum distri Jhelum district ct repr repr esenting work esenting working ing prog progr ress flo ess flow w sheet sheetdiag diagram. ram. 3. Results and Discussion 3.1. Composition and Diversity We found 38 climbers belonging to 25 genera and 11 families from 120 randomly se- lected transects (Table 1). Climbing plants significantly contribute to the overall abundance and species diversity of forests worldwide. For example, Rahman et al. [1], Carrasco-Urra, and Gianoli [26] measured the abundance of 72 climber species in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, which varied significantly due to succession and current disturbance in the forest. Ghollasimood et al. [37] discovered 4901 climber individuals in Malaysia’s Perak coastal hill forest, belonging to 45 climber species in 37 genera and 20 families. Forests 2022, 13, 1244 5 of 16 Table 1. Taxonomic status, climbing mode, phenology and relative density of climbers in Jhelum district. Relative Density Climbing Family Phenology Plant Name Mode G1 G2 G3 G4 August– Asparagus officinalis L. Asparagaceae Scrambler 2 0 66 0 September Vincetoxicum spirale (Forssk.) Apocynaceae Twiner March–April 36 38 166 6 Meve & Liede Cissampelos pareira L. Menispermaceae Tendril July–August 36 47 161 12 August– Causonis trifolia (L.) Mabb. & J. Wen Vitaceae Tendril 68 32 46 0 September Citrullus colocynthis (L.) Schrad. Cucurbitaceae Scrambler May–June 8 115 73 0 Cocculus hirsutus (L.) W. Theob. Menispermaceae Scrambler July–August 0 133 60 24 Convolvulus arvensis L. Convolvulaceae Scrambler March–April 24 31 81 8 Convolvulus prostratus Forssk. Convolvulaceae Scrambler February–April 0 64 119 0 Cryptolepis buchananii Apocynaceae Twiner March–April 26 0 13 181 Roem. & Schult. Cucumis melo L. Cucurbitaceae Scrambler June–July 0 22 0 0 December– Cuscuta reflexa Roxb. Convolvulaceae Twiner 0 122 0 0 January Cynanchum auriculatum Royle Apocynaceae Twiner March–April 6 12 56 20 ex Wight August– Dioscorea deltoidea Wall. ex Griseb. Dioscoriaceae Twiner 0 10 3 255 September Galium aparine L Rubiaceae Scrambler June–July 36 21 103 0 Ipomoea alba L. Convolvulaceae Twiner March–April 4 16 0 0 Ipomoea aquatica Forssk. Convolvulaceae Scrambler February–April 126 42 4 0 Ipomoea cairica (L.) Sweet Convolvulaceae Twiner July–August 36 3 0 0 Ipomoea nil (L.) Roth Convolvulaceae Twiner May–June 32 0 0 0 August– Ipomoea pes-tigridis L. Convolvulaceae Twiner 2 24 0 0 September August– Ipomoea purpurea (L.) Roth Convolvulaceae Twiner 28 0 68 160 September August– Lantana camara L. Verbenaceae Scrambler 0 256 208 0 September September– Lathyrus aphaca L. Leguminosae Tendril 0 218 6 0 October Lathyrus sativus L Leguminosae Tendril March–April 24 306 51 0 Distimake aegyptius (L.) A.R. August– Convolvulaceae Twiner 12 224 0 0 Simoes & Staples September Momordica balsamina L. Cucurbitaceae Tendril May–June 98 299 0 0 August– Mukia maderaspatana (L.) M. Roem. Cucurbitaceae Scrambler 0 304 0 0 September Pentatropis capensis (L. f.) Bullock Apocynaceae Twiner March–April 0 7 0 0 Pentatropis nivalis (J.F. Gmel.) D.V. Apocynaceae Twiner July–August 0 358 0 0 Field & J.R.I. Wood Pergularia daemia (Forssk.) Chiov. Apocynaceae Twiner February–April 0 216 4 0 Pergularia tomentosa L. Apocynaceae Twiner February–April 0 232 2 0 Rhynchosia capitata (Roth) DC Leguminosae Scrambler March–April 28 45 17 0 Rhynchosia minima (L.) DC. Leguminosae Scrambler March–April 40 93 81 0 August– Smilax aspera L. Smilacaceae Hook climber 102 193 26 184 September Woody Tinospora sinensis (Lour.) Merr. Menispermaceae April–May 0 0 16 251 Climber Trichosanthes dioica Roxb. Cucurbitaceae Tendril July–September 0 27 97 0 Vincetoxicum hirsutum Apocynaceae Twiner March–April 0 18 0 212 (Wall.) Kuntze August– Vicia bakeri Ali Leguminosae Scrambler 0 0 42 0 September Vicia sativa L. Leguminosae Scrambler March–April 128 207 283 0 Forests 2022, 13, 1244 6 of 16 In Nigerian secondary woods, Muoghalu and Okeesan [38] found 49 climber species, comprising 35 lianas and 14 vines and spanning 41 genera and 28 families; additionally, they found 53 climber species in Lambir, Malaysia. However, because of their erratic growth patterns and the difficulty of field identification, the climbers’ ecology lags far behind that of other vascular plant groups. Our findings are in line with previous research, and they give us the chance to document 38 climber species in Pakistan’s Himalayan region to fill a gap in our knowledge about the area. The dominant family was Convolvulaceae (26.32%), followed by Apocynaceae (21.05%), Leguminosae (15.79%), Cucurbitaceae (13.16%), Menispermaceae (7.89%), Dioscoriaceae, Asparagaceae, Smilacaceae, Rubiaceae, Verbenaceae, and Vitaceae (2.63%). The majority of the climbers were herbaceous in nature (71.05%), followed by woody (23.68%), para- sitic, and climbing shrubs (2.63% each). Ipomoea (15.78%) was the most dominant genus, followed by Lathyrus, Vicia, Rhynchosia, Convolvulus, Pentatropis, and Pergularia (5.26%), each with identified species. According to Muthumperumal and Parthasarathy [39], the family composition of the dominating climber species varies across the tropics, despite the stability of the family structure at the continental level. Apocynaceae, Leguminosae, Annonaceae, Combretaceae, Loganiaceae, and Rutaceae are generally the most common climbers in Asian tropical forests. In the current study, Apocynaceae and Leguminosae were also the dominant families in the Jhelum district. 3.2. Functional Traits Most species possessed twiner mechanisms for climbing (42.1%), followed by scram- bling (36.84%), tendrils (15.78%), and hook climbers (2.63%). Similar to previous studies, stem twiners were the most common climber type (42.1%) in this study [4,14,39–41]. In our study, scramblers represented 36.84% and tendrils 15.78% of the total climbers in the area. The mean relative density indicated that the most dominant species was Vicia sativa (12.74), followed by Lantana camara (9.84), Momordica balsamina (9.35), Lathyrus sativus (8.64), Pentatropis nivalis (8.58), Smilax aspera (8.54), Distimake aegyptius (6.40) and Mukia maderaspatana (6.24). Ipomoea nil, Ipomoea pes-tigridis, Ipomoea alba, and Pentatropis capensis were rare species in Jhelum. In the current study, the density and richness of the climber species decreased with elevation in the district of Jhelum. This is in contrast to the findings of Rahman et al. [1], who recorded a high density and species richness in the Murree Hill Forest at a high elevation. According to Rahman et al. [1], low-altitude forests have a higher climber density than those at higher elevations, which is similar to our findings. The abundance and richness of the lianas increased significantly with the abiotic factors and responded differently to climate factors. Therefore, comparative studies on climbers are urgently needed to increase our understanding of climbing plants and improve their management in forests. The majority of the climber species flowered during the months of March–April (28.04%), followed by August–September (26.31%), February–April and July–August (10.52%), May–June (7.89%), and June–July (5.26%) (as show in supplementary Table S1). This was similar to the observations made by [42] in the Pakistani Himalayas and [30,43] in the Kashmiri Himalayas in India. Haq et al. [44] reported similar findings, attributing the findings to the species’ adaptation to the specific climatic patterns of each region. The plant’s phenological pattern will provide important information about the peak activity of the phenological events in the plants, ultimately serving as a basis for comparisons in different conditions [45]. Climbers, on the other hand, have a different ecological role and may play an important role as indicators of changes in the weather in the future. 3.3. Classification and Ordination of Climber Plants Using Ward’s agglomerative cluster analysis (Figure 3), we classified 120 transects into four major groups. A two-way cluster analysis revealed three associations of sampling transects based on species presence and absence (1/0). As shown in the figure, the species Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 7 of 18 the findings to the species’ adaptation to the specific climatic patterns of each region. The plant’s phenological pattern will provide important information about the peak activity of the phenological events in the plants, ultimately serving as a basis for comparisons in different conditions [45]. Climbers, on the other hand, have a different ecological role and may play an important role as indicators of changes in the weather in the future. 3.3. Classification and Ordination of Climber Plants Using Ward’s agglomerative cluster analysis (Figure 3), we classified 120 transects into four major groups. A two-way cluster analysis revealed three associations of sam- Forests 2022, 13, 1244 7 of 16 pling transects based on species presence and absence (1/0). As shown in the figure, the species data matrix of 120 sampling transects is clustered into three associations (Figure 4). The species richness and diversity indices for the three associations are shown in Table data matrix of 120 sampling transects is clustered into three associations (Figure 4). The species richness and diversity indices for the three associations are shown in Table 2. Figure 3. Two-way cluster dendrogram showing distribution of 38 species and 120 transects. Blue represents an absence while yellow represents the presence of species. Table 2. Various diversity indices of climber in Jhelum district. Diversity Indices Group I Group II Group III Group IV Mean Species Number 22 32 26 11 22.75 Dominance_D 0.08301 0.05618 0.0733 0.1539 0.091598 Simpson_1-D 0.917 0.9438 0.9267 0.8461 0.9084 Shannon_H 2.712 3.091 2.836 1.973 2.653 Evenness_eˆH/S 0.6843 0.5947 0.6557 0.6541 0.6472 Brillouin 2.643 3.06 2.793 1.948 2.611 Menhinick 0.7325 0.5993 0.6042 0.3036 0.5599 Margalef 3.086 4.366 3.323 1.393 3.042 Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 8 of 18 Forests 2022, 13, 1244 8 of 16 Figure 3. Two-way cluster dendrogram showing distribution of 38 species and 120 transects. Blue represents an absence while yellow represents the presence of species. Figure 4. Cluster dendrogram showing distribution of 38 species into 4 groups. Figure 4. Cluster dendrogram showing distribution of 38 species into 4 groups. Table 2. Various diversity indices of climber in Jhelum district. 3.3.1. Group I Diversity Indices Group I Group II Group III Group IV Mean This group had 10 transects with 902 individuals belonging to 22 species. With an 8.6 Specie relative s Nudensity mber , Pentatropis 22 nivalis was32 the dominant 26species. Momordica 11 balsamina 22.75 , Mukia maderaspatana, Distimake aegyptius, and Lathyrus sativus were the other most abundant Dominance_D 0.08301 0.05618 0.0733 0.1539 0.091598 species. Group I had a 0.65 species richness and a 0.56 species evenness, and its Simpson Simpson_1-D 0.917 0.9438 0.9267 0.8461 0.9084 and Shannon’s diversities were 0.93 and 2.88, respectively. Forests 2022, 13, 1244 9 of 16 3.3.2. Group II Group II had 52 sampling transects with 3812 individuals belonging to 37 species. The most dominant species in association 2 was Vicia sativa with a 7.0 relative density, followed by Lantana camara with 5.1, Cissampelos pareira with 4.9, and Vincetoxicum spirale with a 4.2 relative density. Other notable species in Group II were Convolvulus arvensis, Ipomoea aquatica, and Rhynchosia minima. Group II had a 0.76 species richness and a 0.72 species evenness, while its Simpson and Shannon’s diversities were 0.94 and 3.08, respectively. 3.3.3. Group III Group III included only 35 sampling transects with 1852 individuals from 26 species. The most dominant species in association 3 was Dioscorea deltoidea, with an 11.5 relative density. Tinospora sinensis and Vincetoxicum hirsutum were two of the most common species in group III; they had relative densities of 11.3% and 8.2%. Group III had a species richness of 0.31 and a species evenness of 0.6, while its Simpson and Shannon’s diversities were 0.85 and 2.34, respectively (Table 3). Similar findings were made by [46], who said that the region had the right mix of biotic and abiotic factors to support a wide variety of species. Table 3. Summary of DCA analysis. Axes 1 2 3 4 Total Inertia Eigenvalues 0.746 0.538 0.389 0.249 6.207 Lengths of gradient 4.827 4.317 5.136 2.924 Cumulative percentage 12 20.7 27 31 variance of species data 3.3.4. Group IV Group IV included only 23 sampling transects with 1313 individuals from 11 species. The most dominant species in group IV was Tinospora sinensis, with a 10.5 relative density. In group IV, Smilax aspera had a relative density of 9.3, and Ipomoea purpurea had a relative density of 7.2. The species richness and evenness were the highest (0.61 and 0.58, respec- tively) in group 3. The diversity of the Simpson and Shannon diversities were 0.74 and 2.02, respectively. The complexity and function of a community can be calculated using species diversity. The highest Simpson and Shannon diversity indices were calculated for Group IV, which indicates that species diversity is negatively correlated with elevation. The species richness of a region is influenced by a variety of environmental factors such as geography, terrain, species pool, area productivity, and species competition. The highest species richness index was recorded for Group IV, which was found at low elevations (Table 4). While the Simpson and Shannon’s diversities were 0.83 and 1.9, respectively, the transects in group III were mostly at high elevations compared to the other two associations, which were at low altitudes. 3.4. DCA Ordination of Climbers A DCA dispersed diagram of species (based on the species score) indicated the position of the different species along the two axes and their association with the gradients (Figure 5). On the extreme upper left side of the DCA diagram, the species Cucumis melo, Pentatropis nivalis, Pergularia daemia, Cucumus maderaspatana, Merremia aegyptia, and Cuscuta reflexa possessed a low score on axis 1 and a high score on axis 2. These species prefer dry habitats at low elevations. The upper-right side of the diagram included Smilax aspera, Dioscorea deltoidea, Vincetoxicum hirsutum, Tinospora sinensis, and Cryptolepis buchananii, with a high score on axis 1 and axis 2. These high scores reveal this species’ preference for generally dry and slightly cold environments found at high elevations. These species were separated by a small distance, indicating the microclimatic variations in the area. The species Asparagus officinalis, Trichosanthes dioica, Vicia bakeri, Citrullus colocynthis, and Convolvulus prostrates on the lower Forests 2022, 13, 1244 10 of 16 left side indicate that these species prefer a xeric environment. The species Vicia sativa, Lantana camara, Ipomoea alba, Ipomoea aquatica, Cocculus hirsutus, Ipomoea nil, Causonis trifolia Rhynchosia minima, and Convolvulus arvensis, which are in the middle of the diagram, show that these species do not seem to have a preference for certain habitats and are found in many different types of environments. Table 4. Summary of CCA analysis. Summary Axes 1 2 3 4 Total Inertia Eigenvalues 0.599 0.161 0.109 0.092 6.207 Species–environment correlations 0.912 0.668 0.675 0.672 Cumulative percentage variance of species data: 9.7 12.3 14 15.5 Cumulative percentage of species-environment 46.3 58.8 67.2 74.3 relation: Sum of all eigenvalues 6.207 Sum of all canonical eigenvalues 1.294 Summary of Monte Carlo test Test of significance of first canonical axis: eigenvalue = 0.599 F-ratio = 7.159 p-value = 0.0020 Test of significance of all canonical axes Trace = 1.294 F-ratio = 1.471 Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 11 of 18 p-value = 0.0020 Figure 5. DCA showing the distribution of climber species. Figure 5. DCA showing the distribution of climber species. The DCA diagram of the 120 transects yielded two vegetation zones. Zone 1, at a low elevation, included the first and second association transects, while association three was at high elevations (Figure 6). The DCA ordination for the 38 species and 80 transects showed a maximum gradient length for axis 1 of 4.827 with an Eigenvalue of 0.746. Axis 2 had a gradient length of 4.317 and an Eigenvalue of 0538. The climber plants had a total inertia of 6.207 (Table 3). Similar grouping strategies were employed by [47,48] to identify vegetation based on indicator species. Forests 2022, 13, 1244 11 of 16 The DCA diagram of the 120 transects yielded two vegetation zones. Zone 1, at a low elevation, included the first and second association transects, while association three was at high elevations (Figure 6). The DCA ordination for the 38 species and 80 transects showed a maximum gradient length for axis 1 of 4.827 with an Eigenvalue of 0.746. Axis 2 had a gradient length of 4.317 and an Eigenvalue of 0538. The climber plants had a total inertia of Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 12 of 18 6.207 (Table 3). Similar grouping strategies were employed by [47,48] to identify vegetation based on indicator species. Figure 6. DCA shows the distribution of transect. Figure 6. DCA shows the distribution of transect. 3.5. Role of Abi3.5. otic Vari Roleab ofles on Abiotic Species Dis Variablestribution on Species Distribution The results of the CCA stand-ordination differed significantly from those of the DCA. The results of the CCA stand-ordination differed significantly from those of the DCA. For the most part, the transects fell on the lower left side of the CCA diagram. Of the For the most part, the transects fell on the lower left side of the CCA diagram. Of the analyzed abiotic variables, the slope; slope aspect; altitude; soil moisture; soil pH; soil analyzed abiotic variables, the slope; slope aspect; altitude; soil moisture; soil pH; soil sat- saturation; the contents of calcium carbonate (CaCO ), potassium (K), phosphorus (P), and uration; the contents of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), potassium (K), phosphorus (P), and nitrogen (N); and the organic matter percentage showed clear impacts. Climbers in the first nitrogen (N); and the organic matter percentage showed clear impacts. Climbers in the quadrat of the CCA were affected by the soil electrical conductance, soil pH, and altitude. first quadrat of the CCA were affected by the soil electrical conductance, soil pH, and This quadrat’s species included Tinospora sinensis, Vincetoxicum hirsutum, Dioscorea deltoidea, altitude. This quadrat’s species included Tinospora sinensis, Vincetoxicum hirsutum, Di- Cryptolepis buchananii, and Smilax aspera. In the second quadrat, the climbers were un- oscorea deltoidea, Cryptolepis buchananii, and Smilax aspera. In the second quadrat, the climb- der the influence of calcium carbonate (CaCO ) and nitrogen (N), and this quadrant’s ers were under the influence of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) and nitrogen (N), and this species included Cocculus hirsutus, Ipomoea purpurea, Ipomoea cairicaa, Pergularia tomentosa, quadrant’s species included Cocculus hirsutus, Ipomoea purpurea, Ipomoea cairicaa, Pergularia Convolvulus arvensis, Convolvulus prostratus, and Vincetoxicum spirale. In (Figures 7 and 8), tomentosa, Convolvulus arvensis, Convolvulus prostratus, and Vincetoxicum spirale. In (Figures we show that the climbers in the 4th quadrat are affected by saturation, aspect, and organic 7 and 8), we show that the climbers in the 4th quadrat are affected by saturation, aspect, matter. Whereas Vicia bakeri, Galium aparine, and Lantana camara are all in this quadrat. and organic matter. Whereas Vicia bakeri, Galium aparine, and Lantana camara are all in this The species composition and richness in group 4 were greatly influenced by the quadrat. slope, aspect, altitude, phosphorus content, soil organic matter, and soil pH. The species pattern changed according to fluctuations in the abiotic variables. The plants in group 1 and 2 were under the control of soil moisture and the nitrogen content percentage in the soil, while the plants in group 3 were influenced by all the abiotic variables due to their cosmopolitan nature. Forests 2022, 13, 1244 12 of 16 Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 13 of 18 Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 14 of 18 Figure 7. CCA biplot diagram of climber species and abiotic variables. Figure 7. CCA biplot diagram of climber species and abiotic variables. Figure 8. CCA bi-plot diagram of transect and abiotic variables. Figure 8. CCA bi-plot diagram of transect and abiotic variables. The species composition and richness in group 4 were greatly influenced by the slope, aspect, altitude, phosphorus content, soil organic matter, and soil pH. The species pattern changed according to fluctuations in the abiotic variables. The plants in group 1 and 2 were under the control of soil moisture and the nitrogen content percentage in the soil, while the plants in group 3 were influenced by all the abiotic variables due to their cosmopolitan nature. The first CCA axis accounted for 9.8 of the variance, while the second axis explained 12.3. The third and fourth axes of the CCA explained 14–15.5 of the accumulative variance in the climber data, suggesting that soil moisture and aspect had the strongest links with the third and fourth axes, which could have a significant impact on the distribution pat- tern of the climber species. Based on the CCA results, several species were common at all elevations, and only a few unique species emerged at specific elevations (Table 4). The Pearson correlation was calculated for the 12 abiotic variables (Figure 9), such as m−1 the slope aspect, altitude, slope, soil pH, EC (dS ), AV. P (ppm), CaCO3 (%), soil mois- ture (%), SP (%), N (%), AV. K (ppm), and organic matter (%) (Supplementary Table S2). The species diversity, richness, and distribution of the climbers were found to be influ- enced most by altitudinal variation, slope, slope aspect, and abiotic gradients. Even on a small spatial scale and within a narrow altitudinal range, the altitude appeared to be the most important environmental factor, having a negative relationship with climbers’ di- versity and abundance. The climbers were also found to prefer places with a high soil moisture, a high nitrogen content, a low pH, and a low altitude demand for growth. Our findings are corroborated by [49], who attributed the climbers’ diversity and abundance to their hosts and elevation. This was similar to other studies that found lianas in abun- dance at lower altitudes [1,6,8,29,50]. Abiotic variables have been involved in influencing the spread of lianas in habitats in other research works [3,6,15,32,40]. While working, Liu Forests 2022, 13, 1244 13 of 16 The first CCA axis accounted for 9.8 of the variance, while the second axis explained 12.3. The third and fourth axes of the CCA explained 14–15.5 of the accumulative variance in the climber data, suggesting that soil moisture and aspect had the strongest links with the third and fourth axes, which could have a significant impact on the distribution pattern of the climber species. Based on the CCA results, several species were common at all elevations, and only a few unique species emerged at specific elevations (Table 4). The Pearson correlation was calculated for the 12 abiotic variables (Figure 9), such m1 as the slope aspect, altitude, slope, soil pH, EC (dS ), AV. P (ppm), CaCO3 (%), soil moisture (%), SP (%), N (%), AV. K (ppm), and organic matter (%) (Supplementary Table S2). The species diversity, richness, and distribution of the climbers were found to be influenced most by altitudinal variation, slope, slope aspect, and abiotic gradients. Even on a small spatial scale and within a narrow altitudinal range, the altitude appeared to be the most important environmental factor, having a negative relationship with climbers’ diversity and abundance. The climbers were also found to prefer places with a high soil moisture, Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 15 of 18 a high nitrogen content, a low pH, and a low altitude demand for growth. Our findings are corroborated by [49], who attributed the climbers’ diversity and abundance to their hosts and elevation. This was similar to other studies that found lianas in abundance at et al. [51] reported similar findings, attributing the distribution, community structure, and lower altitudes [1,6,8,29,50]. Abiotic variables have been involved in influencing the spread abundance of the climbing species to environmental conditions such as soil nutrients. Fur- of lianas in habitats in other research works [3,6,15,32,40]. While working, Liu et al. [51] ther research must be conducted on climbers in the forest ecosystems of the Himalayan reported similar findings, attributing the distribution, community structure, and abundance region. of the climbing species to environmental conditions such as soil nutrients. Further research must be conducted on climbers in the forest ecosystems of the Himalayan region. Figure 9. Pearson correlation among the various abiotic variables. Figure 9. Pearson correlation among the various abiotic variables. 4. Conclusions According to the results of our study, Jhelum harbors a diverse range of climbers, contributing to the overall floral diversity of the region. The most dominant family was Convolvulaceae (26.32%), followed by Apocynaceae (21.05%). Vicia sativa (12.74) was the most dominant species, followed by Lantana camara (9.84). Herbaceous climbers com- prised the majority of the climbers (71.05%), followed by woody climbers (23.68%). The recorded twiners were (42.1%), following by scrambling (36.84%), tendrils (15.78%), and hook climbers (2.63%). Overall, 12 abiotic variables were studied: slope aspect, altitude, m−1 slope, soil pH, soil moisture (%), EC (dS ), CaCO3 (%), SP (%), N (%), AV. P (ppm), AV. K (ppm), and organic matter (%). The species diversity, richness, and the distribution of the climbers were found to be influenced most by altitudinal variation, slope, slope aspect, and abiotic gradients. With an increasing elevation, the species diversity and richness de- clined, and the abiotic variables had a major impact on the assemblage and distribution pattern of climbing plants. Abiotic factors critically affected the structural composition and distribution pattern of the climbers. This study’s findings serve as a basis for future botanical inventories and are critical to understanding the biological, ecological, and eco- nomic importance of climbers in forest ecosystems. Our findings will also contribute to Forests 2022, 13, 1244 14 of 16 4. Conclusions According to the results of our study, Jhelum harbors a diverse range of climbers, contributing to the overall floral diversity of the region. The most dominant family was Convolvulaceae (26.32%), followed by Apocynaceae (21.05%). Vicia sativa (12.74) was the most dominant species, followed by Lantana camara (9.84). Herbaceous climbers com- prised the majority of the climbers (71.05%), followed by woody climbers (23.68%). The recorded twiners were (42.1%), following by scrambling (36.84%), tendrils (15.78%), and hook climbers (2.63%). Overall, 12 abiotic variables were studied: slope aspect, altitude, m1 slope, soil pH, soil moisture (%), EC (dS ), CaCO3 (%), SP (%), N (%), AV. P (ppm), AV. K (ppm), and organic matter (%). The species diversity, richness, and the distribution of the climbers were found to be influenced most by altitudinal variation, slope, slope aspect, and abiotic gradients. With an increasing elevation, the species diversity and richness declined, and the abiotic variables had a major impact on the assemblage and distribution pattern of climbing plants. Abiotic factors critically affected the structural composition and distribution pattern of the climbers. This study’s findings serve as a basis for future botani- cal inventories and are critical to understanding the biological, ecological, and economic importance of climbers in forest ecosystems. Our findings will also contribute to filling a knowledge gap in Himalayan botanical studies and will have policy implications for forest habitat management, conservation, and the ecological restoration of Himalayan landscapes. Supplementary Materials: The following supporting information can be downloaded at: https:// www.mdpi.com/article/10.3390/f13081244/s1, Table S1: Analysis of vegetation distribution patterns from District Jhelum, Punjab, Pakistan; Table S2: Analysis of Abiotic variables from study area. Author Contributions: Conceptualization, M.M., R.A., M.W. and A.T.; methodology, M.M., A.T., M.W. and M.A.; software, M.M., I.U., A.T. and M.W.; validation, R.W.B., H.A.S. and A.T.; formal anal- ysis, M.M., A.T. and M.W.; investigation, M.M., R.A., M.W., S.F. and A.T.; resources, M.M. and A.T.; data curation, M.M., S.F., A.T. and R.A.; writing—original draft preparation, M.M.; writing—review and editing, S.M.H., R.A., A.T. and M.A.; visualization, A.T. and H.A.S.; supervision, A.T.; project administration, L.L.; funding acquisition, L.L. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript. Funding: This work is supported by China high-resolution earth observation system (grant No. 03-Y30F03-9001-20/22) and National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant No. 42071321). Data Availability Statement: This study is based on the PhD dissertation of the first author. Species occurrence data is available from the first author upon request. Acknowledgments: The authors thankfully acknowledge all those residents of the study area who generously provided logistic facilities if and/or when required and communicated the reliable potential locations during field surveys. Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest. References 1. Rahman, A.U.; Khan, S.M.; Saqib, Z.; Ullah, Z.; Ahmad, Z.; Ekercin, S.; Mumtaz, A.S.; Ahmad, H. Diversity and abundance of climbers in relation to their hosts and elevation in the monsoon forests of murree in the himalayas. Pak. J. Bot. 2020, 52, 601–612. [CrossRef] 2. Lü, X.T.; Tang, J.W.; Feng, Z.L.; Li, M.H. 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Spatiotemporal Distribution Patterns of Climbers along an Abiotic Gradient in Jhelum District, Punjab, Pakistan

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DOI
10.3390/f13081244
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Abstract

Article Spatiotemporal Distribution Patterns of Climbers along an Abiotic Gradient in Jhelum District, Punjab, Pakistan 1 , † 2 , † 3 , 4 5 6 Muhammad Majeed , Linlin Lu , Sheikh Marifatul Haq , Muhammad Waheed , Hakim Ali Sahito , 1 7 4 8 , 9 , 10 Sammer Fatima , Robina Aziz , Rainer W. Bussmann , Aqil Tariq * , Israr Ullah and Muhammad Aslam Department of Botany, University of Gujrat, Hafiz Hayat Campus, Gujrat 50700, Pakistan Key Laboratory of Digital Earth Science, Aerospace Information Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100094, China Clybay Research Private Limited, Bangalore 560114, India Department of Ethnobotany, Institute of Botany, Ilia State University, 0105 Tbilisi, Georgia Department of Botany, University of Okara, Okara 56300, Pakistan Department of Zoology, Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur 66020, Pakistan Department of Botany, Government College, Women University Sialkot, Sialkot 51310, Pakistan State Key Laboratory of Information Engineering in Surveying, Mapping and Remote Sensing, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430079, China Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mississippi State University, 775 Stone Boulevard, Starkville, MS 39762, USA Division of Earth Sciences and Geography, RWTH Aachen University, 52062 Aachen, Germany School of Computing Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of West of Scotland, Paisley G72 0LH, UK * Correspondence: aqiltariq@whu.edu.cn or at2139@msstate.edu † These authors contributed equally to this work. Citation: Majeed, M.; Lu, L.; Haq, Abstract: Climber–abiotic parameter interactions can have important ramifications for ecosystem’s S.M.; Waheed, M.; Sahito, H.A.; functions and community dynamics, but the extent to which these abiotic factors influence the spatial Fatima, S.; Aziz, R.; Bussmann, R.W.; distributions of climber communities in the western Himalayas is unknown. The purpose of this Tariq, A.; Ullah, I.; et al. study was to examine the taxonomic diversity, richness, and distribution patterns of climbers in Spatiotemporal Distribution Patterns relation to abiotic variables in the Jhelum District. The data were collected from 120 random transects of Climbers along an Abiotic between 2019 and 2021, from 360 sites within triplet quadrats (1080 quadrats), and classification Gradient in Jhelum District, Punjab, and ordination analyses were used to categorize the sample transects. A total of 38 climber species Pakistan. Forests 2022, 13, 1244. belonging to 25 genera and 11 families were recorded from the study area. The Convolvulaceae were https://doi.org/10.3390/f13081244 the dominant family (26.32%), followed by the Apocynaceae (21.05%), and Leguminosae (15.79%). Academic Editors: Sonja Vospernik The majority of the climbers were herbaceous in nature (71.05%), followed by woody (23.68%). Based and Klaus Katzensteiner on the relative density, the most dominant species was Vicia sativa (12.74). The majority of the species Received: 28 April 2022 flowered during the months of March–April (28.04%), followed by August–September (26.31%). Accepted: 2 August 2022 Abiotic factors have a significant influence on the distribution pattern and structure of climbers in Published: 6 August 2022 the study area. The results show that the climbers react to the biotic environment in different ways. The findings will serve as the foundation for future botanical inventories and will be crucial for Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral understanding the biological, ecological, and economic value of climbers in forest ecosystems. This with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affil- will help forest management, conservation, and ecological restoration in the Himalayas. iations. Keywords: climbers; distribution patterns; ecological restoration; abiotic variables Copyright: © 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. 1. Introduction This article is an open access article Plants that are rooted in the ground but require assistance to support their weak stems distributed under the terms and are known as climbers. They are common, particularly in all tropical forests, but are found conditions of the Creative Commons in almost all ecosystems and actively compete with trees for light and space [1]. Climbers Attribution (CC BY) license (https:// (woody and herbaceous) provide an important ecological and structural component in creativecommons.org/licenses/by/ forest and early successional habitats. They function as a physical connection between the 4.0/). Forests 2022, 13, 1244. https://doi.org/10.3390/f13081244 https://www.mdpi.com/journal/forests Forests 2022, 13, 1244 2 of 16 ground and the canopy layer [2,3]. Despite the obvious abundance of climbing plants in some regions, past community studies largely overlooked climbers and their ecology. Their significance in succession and other community dynamics has recently been studied more closely [4,5]. Climbers and lianas play a vital role in forest ecology, contributing to the overall plant diversity [6,7]. However, climbers contribute substantially less to the overall abundance, variety, and structure in temperate forests than they do in tropical forests [8,9]. In temperate climates, lianas are often sparse (particularly in northern North America and Europe) [6,10]. In terms of function, lianas have a variety of pollination, dispersal, and phenological systems and supply a variety of resources to animals (e.g., foliar, floral, and fruit); additionally, lianas play an important part in the preservation of biological diversity [11]. The spread of climber species throughout the landscape is influenced by the same environmental gradients that drive other types of plant development, such as rainfall, light, topography, soil moisture, seasonality, and soil fertility [12]. Environmental and host tree features vary depending on the habitat’s successional stage. Climbers such as lianas and other climbers are more common in early successional environments with canopy gaps [13]. The diversity and abundance of liana species vary greatly from one forest to the next and between forest locations. Over the last two decades, researchers have focused on identifying liana abundance and distribution patterns in various ecosystems as well as understanding the underlying causes of these patterns [4,14]. Despite the lack of sufficient research, climbers and lianas (woody vines) are important forms of forest growth. However, the diversity and distribution of forest climbers and lianas around the world have been studied in several research projects, especially in Africa [1,2,6,15], in South America [7], Central America [6], and in Asia [16]. Even though climbers comprise a large percentage of the vegetation composition in the Himalayas, particularly in Pakistan, climbers have been practically disregarded in prior floristic research. The associations of climatic and edaphic factors have significant effects that can control the vegetation types, their composition and structure, and their distribution patterns. Therefore, this influence upon the variations on the vegetation patterns in the studied district should be monitored on a regular basis to conserve the threatened species. The current research hypothesizes that the vegetation patterns of the Jhelum district are greatly influenced by a novel indigenous environment and climate and aims to discover the following objectives and unanswered questions for the very first time. With this research gap in mind, we devised the following aims for the current study: (I) to evaluate the composition, diversity, and distribution patterns of climbers in the study area; (II) to determine which group of abiotic factors determine the association pattern in the region; (III) to use a multivariate approach to examine the relationship between climbers and abiotic parameters in the region; and finally, (IV) to determine the potential factors underlying the observed patterns. Upon discovering the answers to these questions, our study will help fill a gap in the knowledge of the Himalayas and the world’s mountainous areas in general. This research will have implications for forest management, conservation, and the ecological restoration of the Himalayan landscape. 2. Materials and Methods 2.1. Study Area The Jhelum district in Pakistan is located to the north of the Jhelum River and is bordered to the north by Rawalpindi, to the south by Sargodha and Gujrat, to the east by Azad Kashmir, and to the west by Chakwal district [17,18]. The district is a semi-arid, warm, and subtropical region with hot summers and harsh winters. Jhelum is a semi-mountainous range with an average annual rainfall of 880 mm and an average temperature of 23.6 C [19]. The Jhelum River comprises about 98,800 ha of plains and another 16,500 ha of hilly terrain (Figure 1). Jhelum is home to the world’s 2nd largest salt mine (Khewra), which occupies about 900 ha. People in the Jhelum district have a broad range of life experiences, cultures, customs, and beliefs and have long used local plants for a variety of purposes [20,21]. Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 3 of 18 Azad Kashmir, and to the west by Chakwal district [17,18]. The district is a semi-arid, warm, and subtropical region with hot summers and harsh winters. Jhelum is a semi- mountainous range with an average annual rainfall of 880 mm and an average tempera- ture of 23.6 °C [19]. The Jhelum River comprises about 98,800 ha of plains and another nd 16,500 ha of hilly terrain (Figure 1). Jhelum is home to the world’s 2 largest salt mine (Khewra), which occupies about 900 ha. People in the Jhelum district have a broad range Forests 2022, 13, 1244 3 of 16 of life experiences, cultures, customs, and beliefs and have long used local plants for a variety of purposes [20,21]. Figure 1. Map of Jhelum district displaying the sampling sites [17]. Figure 1. Map of Jhelum district displaying the sampling sites [17]. 2.2. Fieldwork 2.2. Fieldwork A comprehensive field survey was carried out from 2019 to 2021, exploring the botani- A comprehensive field survey was carried out from 2019 to 2021, exploring the bo- cal diversity of Jhelum. Plants were collected and photographed during the field survey. tanical diversity of Jhelum. Plants were collected and photographed during the field sur- Flora of Pakistan (http://www.efloras.org, accessed on 6 May 2021) and other sources vey. Flora of Pakistan (http://www.efloras.org, accessed on 6 May 2021) and other sources of floristic literature were used to determine the species in the region [22,23]. The col- of floristic literature were used to determine the species in the region [22,23]. The collected lected plant specimens were marked with voucher numbers, pressed, properly dried, plant specimens were marked with voucher numbers, pressed, properly dried, and and mounted on international standard-sized herbarium sheets and preserved at the mounted on international standard-sized herbarium sheets and preserved at the Depart- Department of Botany, University of Gujrat, Punjab, Pakistan. The currently accepted ment of Botany, University of Gujrat, Punjab, Pakistan. The currently accepted binomials binomials of each plant species, as well as the family names, follow the plant list ver. 1.1 of each plant species, as well as the family names, follow the plant list ver. 1.1 (http://www.theplantlist.org, accessed on 11 March 2021) (TPL, 2013), as proposed by (http://www.theplantlist.org, accessed on 11 March 2021) (TPL, 2013), as proposed by Majeed et al. [20] and Khan et al. [22], after the initial identification of specimens. Majeed et al. [20] and Khan et al. [22], after the initial identification of specimens. 2.3. Plant Sampling 2.3. Plant Sampling Ecological data for climbers were collected by the transect method. A total of 120 tran- Ecological data for climbers were collected by the transect method. A total of 120 sects of 1 hectare (100 m ) were laid randomly throughout the study area. Five quadrats of transec 2 ts of 1 hectare (100 m ) were laid randomly throughout the study area. Five quad- 20 m each for climbers and host trees were systematically set in each transect [1,3,14,24]. rats of 20 m each for climbers and host trees were systematically set in each transect Elevation and coordinates of each transect were measured using a Garmin e Trex [25]. [1,3,14,24]. Elevation and coordinates of each transect were measured using a Garmin e Moreover, the slope and aspects of each transect were measured using a compass. In each Trex [25]. Moreover, the slope and aspects of each transect were measured using a com- quadrat, the density of climbers and host plants was calculated [1,26]. pass. In each quadrat, the density of climbers and host plants was calculated [1,26]. 2.4. Soil Sampling From each transect, three soil samples were collected randomly (0–30 cm). The col- lected samples were then merged to create a composite sample, which was then stored in polythene bags and labeled for laboratory analysis. A digital pH meter was used to determine electrical conductivity (EC) and pH from soil water extracts. The organic matter was determined using the Walkley–Black method [27], which was further refined by [28], and the total nitrogen content was determined using the [27] Kjeldahl method. The contents of potassium (K) and phosphorus (P) were measured [28]. CaCo content was determined by acid–base neutralization. Moisture content in soil samples was determined using a Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 18 2.4. Soil Sampling From each transect, three soil samples were collected randomly (0–30 cm). The col- lected samples were then merged to create a composite sample, which was then stored in polythene bags and labeled for laboratory analysis. A digital pH meter was used to deter- mine electrical conductivity (EC) and pH from soil water extracts. The organic matter was determined using the Walkley–Black method [27], which was further refined by [28], and the total nitrogen content was determined using the [27] Kjeldahl method. The contents Forests 2022, 13, 1244 4 of 16 of potassium (K) and phosphorus (P) were measured [28]. CaCo3 content was determined by acid–base neutralization. Moisture content in soil samples was determined using a ScalTec moisture analyzer set to 110 °C. The saturation percentage was estimated using ScalTec moisture analyzer set to 110 C. The saturation percentage was estimated using the the formula [28,29] given below formula [28,29] given below Saturation = Mass of wet soil−Mass of oven dry soil × 100/Mass of oven dry soil. Saturation = Mass of wet soil Mass of oven dry soil  100/Mass of oven dry soil. 2.5. Data Analysis 2.5. Data Analysis Plant IVI and stand-level soil data were calculated and analyzed using ordination Plant IVI and stand-level soil data were calculated and analyzed using ordination The The data from 120 transects were entered into an MS Excel spreadsheet [1,28]. Cluster data from 120 transects were entered into an MS Excel spreadsheet [1,28]. Cluster analysis analysis was used to divide climbers into groups. For cluster analysis, the specific density was used to divide climbers into groups. For cluster analysis, the specific density of each of each plant present in the 80 transects was used as the starting point. The optimal prun- plant present in the 80 transects was used as the starting point. The optimal pruning point ing point for the dendrogram was determined using Ward’s technique. PAST software for the dendrogram was determined using Ward’s technique. PAST software (version 4.07) (version 4.07) was used to determine the clusters and diversity indices for each group of was used to determine the clusters and diversity indices for each group of clusters [30–32]. clusters [30–32]. The Pearson correlation between abiotic and non-biotic variables was cal- The Pearson correlation between abiotic and non-biotic variables was calculated using culated using the R program [33]. To investigate the impact of environmental gradients the R program [33]. To investigate the impact of environmental gradients on species on species co composition,mposition, the softwarth e CANOCO e softwareversion CANO4.5 CO[ v 31 e,rs 34 ion 4. –36] was 5 [31, u3 sed 4–3to 6] was perform useCanonical d to per- form Ca Correspondence nonical Correspondence Ana Analysis (CCA), which lysis was (CCA then ), wh detr ich was ended.then d The overall etrendworking ed. The overall pattern is given in Figure 2. working pattern is given in Figure 2. Figure 2. Figure 2.Jhelum distri Jhelum district ct repr repr esenting work esenting working ing prog progr ress flo ess flow w sheet sheetdiag diagram. ram. 3. Results and Discussion 3.1. Composition and Diversity We found 38 climbers belonging to 25 genera and 11 families from 120 randomly se- lected transects (Table 1). Climbing plants significantly contribute to the overall abundance and species diversity of forests worldwide. For example, Rahman et al. [1], Carrasco-Urra, and Gianoli [26] measured the abundance of 72 climber species in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, which varied significantly due to succession and current disturbance in the forest. Ghollasimood et al. [37] discovered 4901 climber individuals in Malaysia’s Perak coastal hill forest, belonging to 45 climber species in 37 genera and 20 families. Forests 2022, 13, 1244 5 of 16 Table 1. Taxonomic status, climbing mode, phenology and relative density of climbers in Jhelum district. Relative Density Climbing Family Phenology Plant Name Mode G1 G2 G3 G4 August– Asparagus officinalis L. Asparagaceae Scrambler 2 0 66 0 September Vincetoxicum spirale (Forssk.) Apocynaceae Twiner March–April 36 38 166 6 Meve & Liede Cissampelos pareira L. Menispermaceae Tendril July–August 36 47 161 12 August– Causonis trifolia (L.) Mabb. & J. Wen Vitaceae Tendril 68 32 46 0 September Citrullus colocynthis (L.) Schrad. Cucurbitaceae Scrambler May–June 8 115 73 0 Cocculus hirsutus (L.) W. Theob. Menispermaceae Scrambler July–August 0 133 60 24 Convolvulus arvensis L. Convolvulaceae Scrambler March–April 24 31 81 8 Convolvulus prostratus Forssk. Convolvulaceae Scrambler February–April 0 64 119 0 Cryptolepis buchananii Apocynaceae Twiner March–April 26 0 13 181 Roem. & Schult. Cucumis melo L. Cucurbitaceae Scrambler June–July 0 22 0 0 December– Cuscuta reflexa Roxb. Convolvulaceae Twiner 0 122 0 0 January Cynanchum auriculatum Royle Apocynaceae Twiner March–April 6 12 56 20 ex Wight August– Dioscorea deltoidea Wall. ex Griseb. Dioscoriaceae Twiner 0 10 3 255 September Galium aparine L Rubiaceae Scrambler June–July 36 21 103 0 Ipomoea alba L. Convolvulaceae Twiner March–April 4 16 0 0 Ipomoea aquatica Forssk. Convolvulaceae Scrambler February–April 126 42 4 0 Ipomoea cairica (L.) Sweet Convolvulaceae Twiner July–August 36 3 0 0 Ipomoea nil (L.) Roth Convolvulaceae Twiner May–June 32 0 0 0 August– Ipomoea pes-tigridis L. Convolvulaceae Twiner 2 24 0 0 September August– Ipomoea purpurea (L.) Roth Convolvulaceae Twiner 28 0 68 160 September August– Lantana camara L. Verbenaceae Scrambler 0 256 208 0 September September– Lathyrus aphaca L. Leguminosae Tendril 0 218 6 0 October Lathyrus sativus L Leguminosae Tendril March–April 24 306 51 0 Distimake aegyptius (L.) A.R. August– Convolvulaceae Twiner 12 224 0 0 Simoes & Staples September Momordica balsamina L. Cucurbitaceae Tendril May–June 98 299 0 0 August– Mukia maderaspatana (L.) M. Roem. Cucurbitaceae Scrambler 0 304 0 0 September Pentatropis capensis (L. f.) Bullock Apocynaceae Twiner March–April 0 7 0 0 Pentatropis nivalis (J.F. Gmel.) D.V. Apocynaceae Twiner July–August 0 358 0 0 Field & J.R.I. Wood Pergularia daemia (Forssk.) Chiov. Apocynaceae Twiner February–April 0 216 4 0 Pergularia tomentosa L. Apocynaceae Twiner February–April 0 232 2 0 Rhynchosia capitata (Roth) DC Leguminosae Scrambler March–April 28 45 17 0 Rhynchosia minima (L.) DC. Leguminosae Scrambler March–April 40 93 81 0 August– Smilax aspera L. Smilacaceae Hook climber 102 193 26 184 September Woody Tinospora sinensis (Lour.) Merr. Menispermaceae April–May 0 0 16 251 Climber Trichosanthes dioica Roxb. Cucurbitaceae Tendril July–September 0 27 97 0 Vincetoxicum hirsutum Apocynaceae Twiner March–April 0 18 0 212 (Wall.) Kuntze August– Vicia bakeri Ali Leguminosae Scrambler 0 0 42 0 September Vicia sativa L. Leguminosae Scrambler March–April 128 207 283 0 Forests 2022, 13, 1244 6 of 16 In Nigerian secondary woods, Muoghalu and Okeesan [38] found 49 climber species, comprising 35 lianas and 14 vines and spanning 41 genera and 28 families; additionally, they found 53 climber species in Lambir, Malaysia. However, because of their erratic growth patterns and the difficulty of field identification, the climbers’ ecology lags far behind that of other vascular plant groups. Our findings are in line with previous research, and they give us the chance to document 38 climber species in Pakistan’s Himalayan region to fill a gap in our knowledge about the area. The dominant family was Convolvulaceae (26.32%), followed by Apocynaceae (21.05%), Leguminosae (15.79%), Cucurbitaceae (13.16%), Menispermaceae (7.89%), Dioscoriaceae, Asparagaceae, Smilacaceae, Rubiaceae, Verbenaceae, and Vitaceae (2.63%). The majority of the climbers were herbaceous in nature (71.05%), followed by woody (23.68%), para- sitic, and climbing shrubs (2.63% each). Ipomoea (15.78%) was the most dominant genus, followed by Lathyrus, Vicia, Rhynchosia, Convolvulus, Pentatropis, and Pergularia (5.26%), each with identified species. According to Muthumperumal and Parthasarathy [39], the family composition of the dominating climber species varies across the tropics, despite the stability of the family structure at the continental level. Apocynaceae, Leguminosae, Annonaceae, Combretaceae, Loganiaceae, and Rutaceae are generally the most common climbers in Asian tropical forests. In the current study, Apocynaceae and Leguminosae were also the dominant families in the Jhelum district. 3.2. Functional Traits Most species possessed twiner mechanisms for climbing (42.1%), followed by scram- bling (36.84%), tendrils (15.78%), and hook climbers (2.63%). Similar to previous studies, stem twiners were the most common climber type (42.1%) in this study [4,14,39–41]. In our study, scramblers represented 36.84% and tendrils 15.78% of the total climbers in the area. The mean relative density indicated that the most dominant species was Vicia sativa (12.74), followed by Lantana camara (9.84), Momordica balsamina (9.35), Lathyrus sativus (8.64), Pentatropis nivalis (8.58), Smilax aspera (8.54), Distimake aegyptius (6.40) and Mukia maderaspatana (6.24). Ipomoea nil, Ipomoea pes-tigridis, Ipomoea alba, and Pentatropis capensis were rare species in Jhelum. In the current study, the density and richness of the climber species decreased with elevation in the district of Jhelum. This is in contrast to the findings of Rahman et al. [1], who recorded a high density and species richness in the Murree Hill Forest at a high elevation. According to Rahman et al. [1], low-altitude forests have a higher climber density than those at higher elevations, which is similar to our findings. The abundance and richness of the lianas increased significantly with the abiotic factors and responded differently to climate factors. Therefore, comparative studies on climbers are urgently needed to increase our understanding of climbing plants and improve their management in forests. The majority of the climber species flowered during the months of March–April (28.04%), followed by August–September (26.31%), February–April and July–August (10.52%), May–June (7.89%), and June–July (5.26%) (as show in supplementary Table S1). This was similar to the observations made by [42] in the Pakistani Himalayas and [30,43] in the Kashmiri Himalayas in India. Haq et al. [44] reported similar findings, attributing the findings to the species’ adaptation to the specific climatic patterns of each region. The plant’s phenological pattern will provide important information about the peak activity of the phenological events in the plants, ultimately serving as a basis for comparisons in different conditions [45]. Climbers, on the other hand, have a different ecological role and may play an important role as indicators of changes in the weather in the future. 3.3. Classification and Ordination of Climber Plants Using Ward’s agglomerative cluster analysis (Figure 3), we classified 120 transects into four major groups. A two-way cluster analysis revealed three associations of sampling transects based on species presence and absence (1/0). As shown in the figure, the species Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 7 of 18 the findings to the species’ adaptation to the specific climatic patterns of each region. The plant’s phenological pattern will provide important information about the peak activity of the phenological events in the plants, ultimately serving as a basis for comparisons in different conditions [45]. Climbers, on the other hand, have a different ecological role and may play an important role as indicators of changes in the weather in the future. 3.3. Classification and Ordination of Climber Plants Using Ward’s agglomerative cluster analysis (Figure 3), we classified 120 transects into four major groups. A two-way cluster analysis revealed three associations of sam- Forests 2022, 13, 1244 7 of 16 pling transects based on species presence and absence (1/0). As shown in the figure, the species data matrix of 120 sampling transects is clustered into three associations (Figure 4). The species richness and diversity indices for the three associations are shown in Table data matrix of 120 sampling transects is clustered into three associations (Figure 4). The species richness and diversity indices for the three associations are shown in Table 2. Figure 3. Two-way cluster dendrogram showing distribution of 38 species and 120 transects. Blue represents an absence while yellow represents the presence of species. Table 2. Various diversity indices of climber in Jhelum district. Diversity Indices Group I Group II Group III Group IV Mean Species Number 22 32 26 11 22.75 Dominance_D 0.08301 0.05618 0.0733 0.1539 0.091598 Simpson_1-D 0.917 0.9438 0.9267 0.8461 0.9084 Shannon_H 2.712 3.091 2.836 1.973 2.653 Evenness_eˆH/S 0.6843 0.5947 0.6557 0.6541 0.6472 Brillouin 2.643 3.06 2.793 1.948 2.611 Menhinick 0.7325 0.5993 0.6042 0.3036 0.5599 Margalef 3.086 4.366 3.323 1.393 3.042 Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 8 of 18 Forests 2022, 13, 1244 8 of 16 Figure 3. Two-way cluster dendrogram showing distribution of 38 species and 120 transects. Blue represents an absence while yellow represents the presence of species. Figure 4. Cluster dendrogram showing distribution of 38 species into 4 groups. Figure 4. Cluster dendrogram showing distribution of 38 species into 4 groups. Table 2. Various diversity indices of climber in Jhelum district. 3.3.1. Group I Diversity Indices Group I Group II Group III Group IV Mean This group had 10 transects with 902 individuals belonging to 22 species. With an 8.6 Specie relative s Nudensity mber , Pentatropis 22 nivalis was32 the dominant 26species. Momordica 11 balsamina 22.75 , Mukia maderaspatana, Distimake aegyptius, and Lathyrus sativus were the other most abundant Dominance_D 0.08301 0.05618 0.0733 0.1539 0.091598 species. Group I had a 0.65 species richness and a 0.56 species evenness, and its Simpson Simpson_1-D 0.917 0.9438 0.9267 0.8461 0.9084 and Shannon’s diversities were 0.93 and 2.88, respectively. Forests 2022, 13, 1244 9 of 16 3.3.2. Group II Group II had 52 sampling transects with 3812 individuals belonging to 37 species. The most dominant species in association 2 was Vicia sativa with a 7.0 relative density, followed by Lantana camara with 5.1, Cissampelos pareira with 4.9, and Vincetoxicum spirale with a 4.2 relative density. Other notable species in Group II were Convolvulus arvensis, Ipomoea aquatica, and Rhynchosia minima. Group II had a 0.76 species richness and a 0.72 species evenness, while its Simpson and Shannon’s diversities were 0.94 and 3.08, respectively. 3.3.3. Group III Group III included only 35 sampling transects with 1852 individuals from 26 species. The most dominant species in association 3 was Dioscorea deltoidea, with an 11.5 relative density. Tinospora sinensis and Vincetoxicum hirsutum were two of the most common species in group III; they had relative densities of 11.3% and 8.2%. Group III had a species richness of 0.31 and a species evenness of 0.6, while its Simpson and Shannon’s diversities were 0.85 and 2.34, respectively (Table 3). Similar findings were made by [46], who said that the region had the right mix of biotic and abiotic factors to support a wide variety of species. Table 3. Summary of DCA analysis. Axes 1 2 3 4 Total Inertia Eigenvalues 0.746 0.538 0.389 0.249 6.207 Lengths of gradient 4.827 4.317 5.136 2.924 Cumulative percentage 12 20.7 27 31 variance of species data 3.3.4. Group IV Group IV included only 23 sampling transects with 1313 individuals from 11 species. The most dominant species in group IV was Tinospora sinensis, with a 10.5 relative density. In group IV, Smilax aspera had a relative density of 9.3, and Ipomoea purpurea had a relative density of 7.2. The species richness and evenness were the highest (0.61 and 0.58, respec- tively) in group 3. The diversity of the Simpson and Shannon diversities were 0.74 and 2.02, respectively. The complexity and function of a community can be calculated using species diversity. The highest Simpson and Shannon diversity indices were calculated for Group IV, which indicates that species diversity is negatively correlated with elevation. The species richness of a region is influenced by a variety of environmental factors such as geography, terrain, species pool, area productivity, and species competition. The highest species richness index was recorded for Group IV, which was found at low elevations (Table 4). While the Simpson and Shannon’s diversities were 0.83 and 1.9, respectively, the transects in group III were mostly at high elevations compared to the other two associations, which were at low altitudes. 3.4. DCA Ordination of Climbers A DCA dispersed diagram of species (based on the species score) indicated the position of the different species along the two axes and their association with the gradients (Figure 5). On the extreme upper left side of the DCA diagram, the species Cucumis melo, Pentatropis nivalis, Pergularia daemia, Cucumus maderaspatana, Merremia aegyptia, and Cuscuta reflexa possessed a low score on axis 1 and a high score on axis 2. These species prefer dry habitats at low elevations. The upper-right side of the diagram included Smilax aspera, Dioscorea deltoidea, Vincetoxicum hirsutum, Tinospora sinensis, and Cryptolepis buchananii, with a high score on axis 1 and axis 2. These high scores reveal this species’ preference for generally dry and slightly cold environments found at high elevations. These species were separated by a small distance, indicating the microclimatic variations in the area. The species Asparagus officinalis, Trichosanthes dioica, Vicia bakeri, Citrullus colocynthis, and Convolvulus prostrates on the lower Forests 2022, 13, 1244 10 of 16 left side indicate that these species prefer a xeric environment. The species Vicia sativa, Lantana camara, Ipomoea alba, Ipomoea aquatica, Cocculus hirsutus, Ipomoea nil, Causonis trifolia Rhynchosia minima, and Convolvulus arvensis, which are in the middle of the diagram, show that these species do not seem to have a preference for certain habitats and are found in many different types of environments. Table 4. Summary of CCA analysis. Summary Axes 1 2 3 4 Total Inertia Eigenvalues 0.599 0.161 0.109 0.092 6.207 Species–environment correlations 0.912 0.668 0.675 0.672 Cumulative percentage variance of species data: 9.7 12.3 14 15.5 Cumulative percentage of species-environment 46.3 58.8 67.2 74.3 relation: Sum of all eigenvalues 6.207 Sum of all canonical eigenvalues 1.294 Summary of Monte Carlo test Test of significance of first canonical axis: eigenvalue = 0.599 F-ratio = 7.159 p-value = 0.0020 Test of significance of all canonical axes Trace = 1.294 F-ratio = 1.471 Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 11 of 18 p-value = 0.0020 Figure 5. DCA showing the distribution of climber species. Figure 5. DCA showing the distribution of climber species. The DCA diagram of the 120 transects yielded two vegetation zones. Zone 1, at a low elevation, included the first and second association transects, while association three was at high elevations (Figure 6). The DCA ordination for the 38 species and 80 transects showed a maximum gradient length for axis 1 of 4.827 with an Eigenvalue of 0.746. Axis 2 had a gradient length of 4.317 and an Eigenvalue of 0538. The climber plants had a total inertia of 6.207 (Table 3). Similar grouping strategies were employed by [47,48] to identify vegetation based on indicator species. Forests 2022, 13, 1244 11 of 16 The DCA diagram of the 120 transects yielded two vegetation zones. Zone 1, at a low elevation, included the first and second association transects, while association three was at high elevations (Figure 6). The DCA ordination for the 38 species and 80 transects showed a maximum gradient length for axis 1 of 4.827 with an Eigenvalue of 0.746. Axis 2 had a gradient length of 4.317 and an Eigenvalue of 0538. The climber plants had a total inertia of Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 12 of 18 6.207 (Table 3). Similar grouping strategies were employed by [47,48] to identify vegetation based on indicator species. Figure 6. DCA shows the distribution of transect. Figure 6. DCA shows the distribution of transect. 3.5. Role of Abi3.5. otic Vari Roleab ofles on Abiotic Species Dis Variablestribution on Species Distribution The results of the CCA stand-ordination differed significantly from those of the DCA. The results of the CCA stand-ordination differed significantly from those of the DCA. For the most part, the transects fell on the lower left side of the CCA diagram. Of the For the most part, the transects fell on the lower left side of the CCA diagram. Of the analyzed abiotic variables, the slope; slope aspect; altitude; soil moisture; soil pH; soil analyzed abiotic variables, the slope; slope aspect; altitude; soil moisture; soil pH; soil sat- saturation; the contents of calcium carbonate (CaCO ), potassium (K), phosphorus (P), and uration; the contents of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), potassium (K), phosphorus (P), and nitrogen (N); and the organic matter percentage showed clear impacts. Climbers in the first nitrogen (N); and the organic matter percentage showed clear impacts. Climbers in the quadrat of the CCA were affected by the soil electrical conductance, soil pH, and altitude. first quadrat of the CCA were affected by the soil electrical conductance, soil pH, and This quadrat’s species included Tinospora sinensis, Vincetoxicum hirsutum, Dioscorea deltoidea, altitude. This quadrat’s species included Tinospora sinensis, Vincetoxicum hirsutum, Di- Cryptolepis buchananii, and Smilax aspera. In the second quadrat, the climbers were un- oscorea deltoidea, Cryptolepis buchananii, and Smilax aspera. In the second quadrat, the climb- der the influence of calcium carbonate (CaCO ) and nitrogen (N), and this quadrant’s ers were under the influence of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) and nitrogen (N), and this species included Cocculus hirsutus, Ipomoea purpurea, Ipomoea cairicaa, Pergularia tomentosa, quadrant’s species included Cocculus hirsutus, Ipomoea purpurea, Ipomoea cairicaa, Pergularia Convolvulus arvensis, Convolvulus prostratus, and Vincetoxicum spirale. In (Figures 7 and 8), tomentosa, Convolvulus arvensis, Convolvulus prostratus, and Vincetoxicum spirale. In (Figures we show that the climbers in the 4th quadrat are affected by saturation, aspect, and organic 7 and 8), we show that the climbers in the 4th quadrat are affected by saturation, aspect, matter. Whereas Vicia bakeri, Galium aparine, and Lantana camara are all in this quadrat. and organic matter. Whereas Vicia bakeri, Galium aparine, and Lantana camara are all in this The species composition and richness in group 4 were greatly influenced by the quadrat. slope, aspect, altitude, phosphorus content, soil organic matter, and soil pH. The species pattern changed according to fluctuations in the abiotic variables. The plants in group 1 and 2 were under the control of soil moisture and the nitrogen content percentage in the soil, while the plants in group 3 were influenced by all the abiotic variables due to their cosmopolitan nature. Forests 2022, 13, 1244 12 of 16 Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 13 of 18 Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 14 of 18 Figure 7. CCA biplot diagram of climber species and abiotic variables. Figure 7. CCA biplot diagram of climber species and abiotic variables. Figure 8. CCA bi-plot diagram of transect and abiotic variables. Figure 8. CCA bi-plot diagram of transect and abiotic variables. The species composition and richness in group 4 were greatly influenced by the slope, aspect, altitude, phosphorus content, soil organic matter, and soil pH. The species pattern changed according to fluctuations in the abiotic variables. The plants in group 1 and 2 were under the control of soil moisture and the nitrogen content percentage in the soil, while the plants in group 3 were influenced by all the abiotic variables due to their cosmopolitan nature. The first CCA axis accounted for 9.8 of the variance, while the second axis explained 12.3. The third and fourth axes of the CCA explained 14–15.5 of the accumulative variance in the climber data, suggesting that soil moisture and aspect had the strongest links with the third and fourth axes, which could have a significant impact on the distribution pat- tern of the climber species. Based on the CCA results, several species were common at all elevations, and only a few unique species emerged at specific elevations (Table 4). The Pearson correlation was calculated for the 12 abiotic variables (Figure 9), such as m−1 the slope aspect, altitude, slope, soil pH, EC (dS ), AV. P (ppm), CaCO3 (%), soil mois- ture (%), SP (%), N (%), AV. K (ppm), and organic matter (%) (Supplementary Table S2). The species diversity, richness, and distribution of the climbers were found to be influ- enced most by altitudinal variation, slope, slope aspect, and abiotic gradients. Even on a small spatial scale and within a narrow altitudinal range, the altitude appeared to be the most important environmental factor, having a negative relationship with climbers’ di- versity and abundance. The climbers were also found to prefer places with a high soil moisture, a high nitrogen content, a low pH, and a low altitude demand for growth. Our findings are corroborated by [49], who attributed the climbers’ diversity and abundance to their hosts and elevation. This was similar to other studies that found lianas in abun- dance at lower altitudes [1,6,8,29,50]. Abiotic variables have been involved in influencing the spread of lianas in habitats in other research works [3,6,15,32,40]. While working, Liu Forests 2022, 13, 1244 13 of 16 The first CCA axis accounted for 9.8 of the variance, while the second axis explained 12.3. The third and fourth axes of the CCA explained 14–15.5 of the accumulative variance in the climber data, suggesting that soil moisture and aspect had the strongest links with the third and fourth axes, which could have a significant impact on the distribution pattern of the climber species. Based on the CCA results, several species were common at all elevations, and only a few unique species emerged at specific elevations (Table 4). The Pearson correlation was calculated for the 12 abiotic variables (Figure 9), such m1 as the slope aspect, altitude, slope, soil pH, EC (dS ), AV. P (ppm), CaCO3 (%), soil moisture (%), SP (%), N (%), AV. K (ppm), and organic matter (%) (Supplementary Table S2). The species diversity, richness, and distribution of the climbers were found to be influenced most by altitudinal variation, slope, slope aspect, and abiotic gradients. Even on a small spatial scale and within a narrow altitudinal range, the altitude appeared to be the most important environmental factor, having a negative relationship with climbers’ diversity and abundance. The climbers were also found to prefer places with a high soil moisture, Forests 2022, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 15 of 18 a high nitrogen content, a low pH, and a low altitude demand for growth. Our findings are corroborated by [49], who attributed the climbers’ diversity and abundance to their hosts and elevation. This was similar to other studies that found lianas in abundance at et al. [51] reported similar findings, attributing the distribution, community structure, and lower altitudes [1,6,8,29,50]. Abiotic variables have been involved in influencing the spread abundance of the climbing species to environmental conditions such as soil nutrients. Fur- of lianas in habitats in other research works [3,6,15,32,40]. While working, Liu et al. [51] ther research must be conducted on climbers in the forest ecosystems of the Himalayan reported similar findings, attributing the distribution, community structure, and abundance region. of the climbing species to environmental conditions such as soil nutrients. Further research must be conducted on climbers in the forest ecosystems of the Himalayan region. Figure 9. Pearson correlation among the various abiotic variables. Figure 9. Pearson correlation among the various abiotic variables. 4. Conclusions According to the results of our study, Jhelum harbors a diverse range of climbers, contributing to the overall floral diversity of the region. The most dominant family was Convolvulaceae (26.32%), followed by Apocynaceae (21.05%). Vicia sativa (12.74) was the most dominant species, followed by Lantana camara (9.84). Herbaceous climbers com- prised the majority of the climbers (71.05%), followed by woody climbers (23.68%). The recorded twiners were (42.1%), following by scrambling (36.84%), tendrils (15.78%), and hook climbers (2.63%). Overall, 12 abiotic variables were studied: slope aspect, altitude, m−1 slope, soil pH, soil moisture (%), EC (dS ), CaCO3 (%), SP (%), N (%), AV. P (ppm), AV. K (ppm), and organic matter (%). The species diversity, richness, and the distribution of the climbers were found to be influenced most by altitudinal variation, slope, slope aspect, and abiotic gradients. With an increasing elevation, the species diversity and richness de- clined, and the abiotic variables had a major impact on the assemblage and distribution pattern of climbing plants. Abiotic factors critically affected the structural composition and distribution pattern of the climbers. This study’s findings serve as a basis for future botanical inventories and are critical to understanding the biological, ecological, and eco- nomic importance of climbers in forest ecosystems. Our findings will also contribute to Forests 2022, 13, 1244 14 of 16 4. Conclusions According to the results of our study, Jhelum harbors a diverse range of climbers, contributing to the overall floral diversity of the region. The most dominant family was Convolvulaceae (26.32%), followed by Apocynaceae (21.05%). Vicia sativa (12.74) was the most dominant species, followed by Lantana camara (9.84). Herbaceous climbers com- prised the majority of the climbers (71.05%), followed by woody climbers (23.68%). The recorded twiners were (42.1%), following by scrambling (36.84%), tendrils (15.78%), and hook climbers (2.63%). Overall, 12 abiotic variables were studied: slope aspect, altitude, m1 slope, soil pH, soil moisture (%), EC (dS ), CaCO3 (%), SP (%), N (%), AV. P (ppm), AV. K (ppm), and organic matter (%). The species diversity, richness, and the distribution of the climbers were found to be influenced most by altitudinal variation, slope, slope aspect, and abiotic gradients. With an increasing elevation, the species diversity and richness declined, and the abiotic variables had a major impact on the assemblage and distribution pattern of climbing plants. Abiotic factors critically affected the structural composition and distribution pattern of the climbers. This study’s findings serve as a basis for future botani- cal inventories and are critical to understanding the biological, ecological, and economic importance of climbers in forest ecosystems. Our findings will also contribute to filling a knowledge gap in Himalayan botanical studies and will have policy implications for forest habitat management, conservation, and the ecological restoration of Himalayan landscapes. Supplementary Materials: The following supporting information can be downloaded at: https:// www.mdpi.com/article/10.3390/f13081244/s1, Table S1: Analysis of vegetation distribution patterns from District Jhelum, Punjab, Pakistan; Table S2: Analysis of Abiotic variables from study area. Author Contributions: Conceptualization, M.M., R.A., M.W. and A.T.; methodology, M.M., A.T., M.W. and M.A.; software, M.M., I.U., A.T. and M.W.; validation, R.W.B., H.A.S. and A.T.; formal anal- ysis, M.M., A.T. and M.W.; investigation, M.M., R.A., M.W., S.F. and A.T.; resources, M.M. and A.T.; data curation, M.M., S.F., A.T. and R.A.; writing—original draft preparation, M.M.; writing—review and editing, S.M.H., R.A., A.T. and M.A.; visualization, A.T. and H.A.S.; supervision, A.T.; project administration, L.L.; funding acquisition, L.L. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript. Funding: This work is supported by China high-resolution earth observation system (grant No. 03-Y30F03-9001-20/22) and National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant No. 42071321). Data Availability Statement: This study is based on the PhD dissertation of the first author. Species occurrence data is available from the first author upon request. Acknowledgments: The authors thankfully acknowledge all those residents of the study area who generously provided logistic facilities if and/or when required and communicated the reliable potential locations during field surveys. Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest. References 1. Rahman, A.U.; Khan, S.M.; Saqib, Z.; Ullah, Z.; Ahmad, Z.; Ekercin, S.; Mumtaz, A.S.; Ahmad, H. Diversity and abundance of climbers in relation to their hosts and elevation in the monsoon forests of murree in the himalayas. Pak. J. Bot. 2020, 52, 601–612. [CrossRef] 2. Lü, X.T.; Tang, J.W.; Feng, Z.L.; Li, M.H. 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Journal

ForestsMultidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute

Published: Aug 6, 2022

Keywords: climbers; distribution patterns; ecological restoration; abiotic variables

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