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Butterfly diversity along the elevation gradient of Eastern Himalaya, India

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The species richness pattern along spatial scales (latitudinal or elevational) forms useful tools in understanding diversity gradients and their underlying mechanisms. Understanding elevational diversity patterns of biodiversity have strong conservation implications. Himalayas are unique systems in exploring such gradients as they harbor tallest mountains in the world. Here, we explored the elevational pattern, its underlying causes, turn over rate and range size distribution of butterflies in Sikkim, Eastern Himalaya, India. We followed fixed width point count method for sampling butterflies covering 1014 points spread over 23 transects along the elevation gradient (300–4700 m) in Sikkim. Data on environmental factors and habitat parameters were obtained from our published literatures of the same study system. During this study we observed a total of 2749 butterflies representing 161 species and six families. Species richness pattern of butterflies followed declining trend along the elevation gradient with a hump at around 1000 m. Various environmental factors and habitat variables correlated strongly with the species richness and abundance of butterflies. Among the set of factors, mean annual temperature and actual evapotranspiration remained the most important determinants reflecting the importance of energy and productivity for butterfly distribution in the Eastern Himalayan elevation gradient. Butterflies showed high turnover along the gradient. Elevational range profile of butterflies showed that around 38.5 % species restricted below 2000 m elevation. We observed that low elevation areas are important for conservation of butterflies in the Eastern Himalaya although entire elevation gradient is crucial for small range-sized species.

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This study forms a part of the project “Carrying capacity of the Teesta river basin in Sikkim” funded by MoEF, Government of India through CISMHE, University of Delhi. We are grateful to Government of Sikkim (Forests and Home Department) for necessary permits and cooperation to carry out field work. We thank scientific and administrative staff of SACON for facilities to undertake this research, and Ajith Kumar, S. Bhupathy, Basundhara, Sophio, Ranjini, Narapati and Kishor for various supports. BKA thank Sikkim University for facilities during the preparation of this manuscript. Critical comments of anonymous reviewers and editorial team of the journal were much helpful to refine the manuscript. Hospitality of local communities and support of field assistants are highly appreciated.

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Correspondence to Bhoj Kumar Acharya.

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Acharya, B.K., Vijayan, L. Butterfly diversity along the elevation gradient of Eastern Himalaya, India. Ecol Res 30, 909–919 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11284-015-1292-0

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  • Conservation
  • Energy
  • Productivity
  • Range size
  • Sikkim