We quantified plant diversity patterns according to changes in species composition, floristic richness, and species diversity in various plant communities in the Shilin karst area (24°38′–24°58′N, 103°11′–103°29′E, altitude 1600–2203 m) of central Yunnan, China, in which the previous land use had been documented. Cluster analysis of floristic similarity of all the stands showed that plant species composition and diversity were primarily influenced by the legacies of land use (as coppices, pastures, and plantations). The DCA (detrended correspondence analysis) grouped 14 sampling transects into 3 plant communities, including a shrubland, a mixed deciduous and evergreen broad-leaved stand (secondary forest), and a premature semihumid evergreen broad-leaved stand (natural premature forest), along a disturbance gradient. We also analyzed Pinus plantations. While plant species diversity was particularly low in the Pinus plantation, stands developing (secondary forest) on former coppice sites were becoming increasingly similar to the natural premature forest. The results would indicate that vegetation and plant species diversity is more efficiently restored by letting degraded vegetation regrow rather than establishing plantations.
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