, Volume 8, Issue 5, pp 617-628

The environmental basis of North American species richness patterns among Epicauta (Coleoptera: Meloidae)

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Abstract

Understanding regional variability in species richness is necessary for conservation efforts to succeed in the face of large-scale environmental deterioration. Several analyses of North American vertebrates have shown that climatic energy provides the best explanation of contemporary species richness patterns. The paucity of analyses of insect diversity patterns, however, remains a serious obstacle to a general hypothesis of spatial variation in diversity. We collected species distribution data on a North American beetle genus, Epicauta (Coleoptera: Meloidae) and tested several major diversity hypotheses. These beetles are generally grasshopper egg predators as larvae, and angiosperm herbivores as adults. Epicauta richness is highest in the hot, dry American southwest, and decreases north and east, consistent with the species richness-energy hypothesis. Potential evapotranspiration, which is also the best predictor of richness patterns among North American vertebrates, explains 80.2% of the variability in Epicauta species richness. Net primary productivity and variables measuring climatic heat energy only (such as PET) are not generally comparable, though they are sometimes treated as if they were equivalent. We conclude that the species richness-energy hypothesis currently provides a better overall explanation for Epicauta species richness patterns in North America than other major diversity hypotheses. The observed relationship between climatic energy and regional species richness may provide significant insight into the response of ecological communities to climate change.