, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 417-431

Plant and animal diversity in a region of the Southern Alps: the role of environmental and spatial processes

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Abstract

Different organisms respond to landscape configuration and spatial structure in different terms and across different spatial scales. Here, regression models with variation partitioning were applied to determine relative influence of the three groups of variables (climate, land use and environmental heterogeneity) and spatial structure variables on plant, bird, orthopteran and butterfly species richness in a region of the Southern Alps, ranging in elevation from the sea level to 2,780 m. Grassland and forest cover were positively correlated with species richness in both taxonomic groups, whilst species richness decreased with increasing urban elements and arable land. The variation was mainly explained by the shared component between the three groups in plants and between landscape and environmental heterogeneity in birds. The variation was related to independent land use effect in insects. The distribution in species richness was spatially structured for plants, birds and orthopterans, whilst in butterflies, no spatial structure was detected. Plant richness was associated with linear trend variation and broad-scale spatial structure in the northern part of the region, whilst bird richness with broad-scale variation which occurs on the external Alpine ridge. Orthopteran diversity was strongly related to fine-scale spatial structure, generated by dynamic processes or by unmeasured spatially structured abiotic factors. Although the study was carried out in relatively small area, the four taxonomic groups seem to respond to biodiversity drivers in a surprisingly different way. This has considerable implications for conservation planning as it restricts the usefulness of simple indicators in prioritizing areas for conservation purposes.