Butterfly diversity and historical land cover change along an altitudinal gradient
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- Wagner, K.D., Krauss, J. & Steffan-Dewenter, I. J Insect Conserv (2013) 17: 1039. doi:10.1007/s10841-013-9587-3
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Land cover and climate change are both major threats for biodiversity. In mountain ecosystems species have to adapt to fragmented habitats and harsh environmental conditions but so far, altitudinal effects in combination with land cover change have been rarely studied. The objective of this study was to determine the effects of altitude and historical land cover change on butterfly diversity. We studied species richness patterns of butterflies occuring in wetlands and other open habitats along an altitudinal gradient in a low mountain region (340–750 m a.s.l., Bavaria, Germany) with drastic loss of open habitats within the last 40–60 years. We recorded in 27 sites a total of 4,523 individuals of 49 butterfly species and five species of burnet moths. Species richness peaked at mid elevation and increased with patch size. Land cover change was most pronounced at high altitudes, but neither current open habitats, nor the historical loss of open habitats affected the species richness of butterflies. Neither open land specialized butterflies nor generalist and forest species were significantly affected by the loss of open habitats. However, increasing forest area in high altitudes reduces possible refuge open habitats for butterflies at their thermal distribution limits. This could lead to extinction of such butterfly species when temperatures further rise due to global warming.