Potential role of sacred groves in biodiversity conservation in Tanzania
Sacred groves, some as old as several centuries, may have contributed to the preservation of some plant species in Tanzania. This has led conservationists to consider whether sacred groves could be used for in situ conservation. Eight sacred groves of the Ugunda chieftaincy of the Wanyamwezi in central Tanzania representing burial sites that varied from 6–300 years old were inventoried to compare woody species richness and taxonomic diversity with those of forest plots in a state managed Forest Reserve. Although they occupied a relatively small area the sacred groves had greater woody species richness and taxonomic diversity than the state managed Forest Reserve. The forest plots and the groves shared a species similarity index of 45%, suggesting that the sacred groves contributed to in situ conservation of the miombo woodland biodiversity. Some of the woody species were absent in the forest plots, also suggesting that groves served as a refuge for some species. An inventory of all existing sacred groves could provide important information on their role in in situ conservation. In order to promote them for community-based conservation of biodiversity the government should declare sacred groves as preservation sites, and incorporate them into modern conservation systems.
Key Words: in situ conservation; biodiversity; forest reserve; miombo woodlands; sacred groves; species richness; Wanyamwezi chieftaincy; Tanzania.
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