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  FORESTRY SYMPOSIUM 1996
CLUSTER ANALYSIS AS A POSSIBLE TOOL FOR EXAMINING THE STRUCTURE OF ECOLOGICAL COMMUNITIES: EXAMPLES OF CARNIVORE ASSEMBLAGES IN SELECTED NATIONAL PARKS IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

S Miththapala, S Senaratna, G Jayasingh and John Seidensticker

At present, the dramatic acceleration of the extinction of species has served to highlight the paucity of careful and continuing faunal and floral surveys. Equally important is the examination of the structures of ecological communities, so that the roles played by each species in a community can be identified.

Although theoretically, both these types of studies are essential, parallel components of biodiversity conservation, the practical on - the - ground picture is very different. Often, political will, financial resources, and time, impede the initiation of detailed surveys, and the description of the structure of communities.

The only recourse left for conservation biologists in these instances is the use of rapid assessment techniques. Although these techniques are quick, they fall short of identifying functional roles of species in ecosystems.

In this paper, cluster analyses is presented as a possible method of examining data obtained from rapid assessments or generalized data, as a means of identifying ecologically important species and thereby highlighting species which need immediate, detailed study.

In four selected national parks of South Asia (Khao Yai National Park in Thailand; Royal Chitawan National Park in Nepal; Sepolik Forest Reserve on the island of Borneo and Wilpattu National Park in Sri Lanka), carnivore assemblages were described using discrete categories for several broad variables: 1) Body size;2) Activity; 3) Substrate; 4) Prey; 5) Habitat; and 6) Elevation. For Each species, the category for every variable was scored and clustered using SPSS, generating dendrograms for each assemblage.

As contrasting examples, this method isolates clearly the Sloth Bear from other species in Wilpattu, confirming descriptions that it is a niche specialist, which feeds on termites. In contrast, the Ring-Tailed Civet is clustered with three species of Mongooses, indicating finer resource partitioning than described in the variable. From a management perspective, it is obvious that detailed studies of these species are needed to identify their realized niches in different habitats, in order that management strategies can be formulated.

It is reiterated that continuing detailed faunal surveys are essential for conservation, but that rapid techniques are also crucial and parallel methodologies that must be used simultaneously. It is proposed that from rapid techniques, it is possible to emphasize areas or species which need detailed study through cluster analyses.

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