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Species richness and trait composition of butterfly assemblages change along an altitudinal gradient

Abstract

Species richness patterns along altitudinal gradients are well-documented ecological phenomena, yet very little data are available on how environmental filtering processes influence the composition and traits of butterfly assemblages at high altitudes. We have studied the diversity patterns of butterfly species at 34 sites along an altitudinal gradient ranging from 600 to 2,000 m a.s.l. in the National Park Berchtesgaden (Germany) and analysed traits of butterfly assemblages associated with dispersal capacity, reproductive strategies and developmental time from lowlands to highlands, including phylogenetic analyses. We found a linear decline in butterfly species richness along the altitudinal gradient, but the phylogenetic relatedness of the butterfly assemblages did not increase with altitude. Compared to butterfly assemblages at lower altitudes, those at higher altitudes were composed of species with larger wings (on average 9 %) which laid an average of 68 % more eggs. In contrast, egg maturation time in butterfly assemblages decreased by about 22 % along the altitudinal gradient. Further, butterfly assemblages at higher altitudes were increasingly dominated by less widespread species. Based on our abundance data, but not on data in the literature, population density increased with altitude, suggesting a reversed density–distribution relationship, with higher population densities of habitat specialists in harsh environments. In conclusion, our data provide evidence for significant shifts in the composition of butterfly assemblages and for the dominance of different traits along the altitudinal gradient. In our study, these changes were mainly driven by environmental factors, whereas phylogenetic filtering played a minor role along the studied altitudinal range.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Carmen Börschig, Bernhard Hoiß and Yu-Lung Hsieh for valuable comments on the manuscript; Bernhard Hoiß also for his help in the field and the lab; Jürgen Hensle and Peter Sonderegger for their help with the life-history traits of alpine butterflies; Julian Bittermann, Alfred Haslberger and the “Arbeitsgemeinschaft Bayerischer Entomologen e.V.” for taxonomic support; Michael Vogel, Helmut Franz and the National Park Berchtesgaden for the permission to work in the national park and the owners of the study sites outside the national park for their cooperation; Elisabeth Sieger for the kind care in the research station Ramsau. This study was pursued within the framework of the joint research centre FORKAST and was funded by the “Bavarian Climate Programme 2020”.

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Correspondence to Annette Leingärtner.

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Communicated by Konrad Fiedler.

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Leingärtner, A., Krauss, J. & Steffan-Dewenter, I. Species richness and trait composition of butterfly assemblages change along an altitudinal gradient. Oecologia 175, 613–623 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-014-2917-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-014-2917-7

Keywords

  • Alpine ecosystems
  • Biodiversity
  • Climate
  • Environmental filtering
  • Population density