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Spiritual values shape taxonomic diversity, vegetation composition, and conservation status in woodlands of the Northern Zagros, Iran

Zahed Shakeri, Faculty of Organic Agricultural Sciences, University of Kassel, Witzenhausen, Germany
Kyumars Mohammadi-Samani, Department of Forestry, Faculty of Natural Resources, University of Kurdistan, Sanandaj, Iran; Center for Research and Development of Northern Zagros Forestry, Baneh, Iran
Erwin Bergmeier, Department of Vegetation and Phytodiversity Analysis, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany
Tobias Plieninger, Faculty of Organic Agricultural Sciences, University of Kassel, Witzenhausen, Germany; Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany


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Sacred groves are under-researched in Muslim countries so that their overall contribution to biodiversity conservation remains unknown. We studied 22 sacred groves and 45 surrounding woodlands in Northern Zagros, Iran, to compare taxonomic diversity, vegetation composition, and the conservation status of plant species. Sacred groves had higher taxonomic diversity and a more valuable species pool by sheltering numerous endangered plant species. Multivariate analysis indicated a substantial difference in the vegetation composition of sacred groves and surrounding woodlands. Traditional deliberate protection (because of religious values) plus some environmental variables were the main drivers of the distinct vegetation composition of sacred groves. Sacred groves are the only remains of old-growth forests in the border regions of Iran and Iraq and they are important refuges of biocultural diversity. To better link the conservation of nature and culture, we recommend encouraging local people to preserve spiritual values, myths, and taboos around sacred groves.

Key words

endangered species; in situ conservation; religious beliefs; sacred groves; silvopastoral practices

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087