Steven G. Platt, Win Ko Ko, Khin Myo Myo, Lay Lay Khaing,Kalyar Platt, Aung Maung, and Thomas R. Rainwater
Melocanna baccifera (Trin.) is a large monopodial bamboo that forms extensive monotypic
stands (known as brakes) throughout the Rakhine Hills of western Myanmar. Despite the ecological and cultural importance of bamboos in Southeast Asia, little is known about M. baccifera in Myanmar. We report characteristics of a representative stand, describe recent mast fruiting and fire ecology, and comment on the ethnobotanical importance of M. baccifera. Additionally, we provide a preliminary assessment of bamboo brakes as wildlife habitat. Fieldwork was conducted in the Rakhine Hills during 2000, 2003, and 2009 in conjunction with studies of Heosemys depressa, a critically endangered turtle endemic to the region. The mean (±1SE) density of living and dead culms in a representative stand of M. baccifera was 32,000 ± 2000 and 22,000 ± 2000 culms/ha, respectively. The mean (±1SE) diameter breast height (DBH) of living and dead culms was 4.1 ± 0.05 cm and 2.6 ± 0.05 cm, respectively. The mean basal area of living culms 455 ± 35 m2/ha. Flowering and fruiting of M. baccifera in the Rakhine Hills began in May 2007, and by May-June 2009 widespread culm die-back was underway. Our data and historic accounts suggest an intermast period of 45-50 years. Dry season fires occur frequently in M. baccifera brakes as a result of lightning strikes, dried culms rubbing together, and human ignition. A post-fruiting fuel load of 59,400 kg/ha was estimated for a representative brake. Cursory observations suggest that ethnic Chin inhabiting the Rakhine Hills have a multitude of uses for M. baccifera. Bamboo brakes in the Rakhine Hills appear to support a diverse assemblage of wildlife, many of which are species of conservation concern. Henceforth bamboo brakes should not be regarded as degraded ecosystems of minimal conservation value, but instead recognized as important human and wildlife habitats.
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