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Contrasting the distribution of butterflies and termites in plantations and tropical forests

Abstract

In the tropics vast areas of natural forests are being converted into plantations. The magnitude of the resulting loss in arthropod biodiversity and associated ecosystem services represents a significant topic of research. In this study we contrasted the abundance, species richness and faunal turnover of butterflies, resident butterflies (i.e., whose host plants were ascertained to occur in the habitats studied) and termites between small (average 4.3 ha) 20+ year old exotic plantations (teak and Terminalia), native plantations (Cedro espino), and an old growth forest in Panama. We used Pollard walks and manual search to quantify the abundance or occurrence of butterflies and termites, respectively. In 2014 we observed 4610 butterflies representing 266 species and 108 termite encounters (out of 160 quadrats) representing 15 species. Butterflies were more abundant and diverse in plantations than in the forest, whereas this pattern was opposite for resident butterflies and termites. There was marked faunal turnover between plantations and forest. We conclude that (a) the magnitude of faunal changes between forest and plantations is less drastic for termites than for butterflies; (b) resident butterfly species are more impacted by the conversion of forest to plantations than all butterflies, including transient species; and (c) species richness does not necessarily decrease in the series forest > native > exotic plantations. Whereas there are advantages of studying more tractable taxa such as butterflies, the responses of such taxa can be highly unrepresentative of other invertebrate groups responsible for different ecological services.

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Acknowledgments

Bob Robbins, Andy Warren, Annette Aiello, Yves Roisin, Thomas Bourguignon and Rudolf Scheffrahn provided expert opinions on butterfly and termite taxonomy. Jefferson Hall and Estrella Yanguas kindly helped to organize the project and shared their vegetation data. Fieldwork was funded by Argos and ForestGEO, collecting permits were granted by the Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente de Panamá. Grants from the Smithsonian Institution Barcoding Opportunity FY012, FY013, FY014 and in-kind help from the Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding via Paul Hebert and Alex Borisenko at the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario allowed the sequencing of the butterfly and termite specimens. YB was supported by Czech Science foundation GAČR grant 14-36098G. YB and HB are members of the Sistema Nacional de Investigación, SENACYT, Panama. Isabelle Bachy helped with the preparation of the figures. Cecilia Dahlsjö, Alan Andersen and an anonymous reviewer greatly helped to improve the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Yves Basset.

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This article belongs to the Topical Collection: Forest and plantation biodiversity.

Communicated by Akihiro Nakamura.

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Basset, Y., Barrios, H., Ramirez, J.A. et al. Contrasting the distribution of butterflies and termites in plantations and tropical forests. Biodivers Conserv 26, 151–176 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-016-1231-6

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Keywords

  • Barro Colorado Island
  • Cedro espino
  • Faunal turnover
  • Isoptera
  • Teak
  • Terminalia