Original Paper

Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 323-342

First online:

Plant phylogeny as a surrogate for turnover in beetle assemblages

  • David A. NipperessAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University Email author 
  • , Andrew J. BeattieAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University
  • , Daniel P. FaithAffiliated withAustralian Museum
  • , Scott G. GinnAffiliated withAustralian Museum
  • , Roger L. KitchingAffiliated withEnvironmental Futures Centre, Griffith School of the Environment, Griffith University
  • , Chris A. M. ReidAffiliated withAustralian Museum
  • , Tracey RussellAffiliated withFaculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney
  • , Lesley HughesAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University

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The ability to extrapolate from the known to the unknown is essential if we are to use the turnover of overall biodiversity, as opposed to a few well-known groups, to inform conservation planning. We investigated the usefulness of using evolutionary relationships of plants as a surrogate for the turnover of their associated beetle assemblages. If plant traits that are important to insects are phylogenetically conserved, it follows that there will be a positive relationship between insect faunal dissimilarity and plant evolutionary distance. We collected beetles using pyrethrum knock-down methods from 40 plant species belonging to four plant families in the Sydney region of Eastern Australia. We developed a novel approach for estimating variance in the dissimilarity of beetle assemblages, as explained by plant phylogeny, by using phylogenetic eigenvectors as explanatory variables in a distance-based redundancy analysis. We found a highly significant relationship between faunal dissimilarity and plant evolutionary distance for the entire beetle assemblage, the herbivorous component, and the non-herbivorous component, indicating that beetles generally showed some preference for particular plant clades as habitat, regardless of feeding guild. When comparing observed dissimilarities with those predicted from 40 jack-knife replicates of a Generalised Dissimilarity Model, we were often able to predict beetle turnover from plant phylogenetic relationships, although the reliability of this result was highly variable. Nevertheless, the broad response of beetle assemblages to plant evolutionary relatedness indicates real potential for plant phylogenetic pattern to act as a useful surrogate for insect biodiversity, especially when supplemented with other environmental correlates.


Australia Biodiversity Coleoptera Conservation planning Dissimilarity Host specificity Insect-plant interactions