Is insect vertical distribution in rainforests better explained by distance from the canopy top or distance from the ground?

Abstract

The way arthropods are distributed vertically in tropical forests has been of great interest with diversity often greatest at or near the canopy top. Typically, stratification is measured up from the ground but, since the height of trees reaching the canopy top can vary, we hypothesise that distance down from the canopy top, might better explain arthropod distributions. To test this samples were collected from Australian tropical rainforest trees in both dry and wet seasons by beating foliage from five trees for each of 11 tree species at set intervals down each tree. A total of 2628 arthropods were collected. Abundant groups were Araneae, Coleoptera, Formicidae, Blattodea and Homoptera. Coleoptera were sorted to species. Since the forest was naturally disturbed by storms, height of trees reaching the canopy top ranged 10–40 m. Our results suggested that the best fit for vertical stratification, either distance from ground or distance down from the canopy, were taxon specific. For ordinal richness and abundance of arthropods the best model was distance from the ground with decreasing trends from the ground. Similarly, distance from the ground best fitted abundances of spiders, cockroaches and Homoptera. In contrast, declination from the canopy top best fitted beetle species richness and abundance, and ant abundance. The effect of vertical stratification was, however, significant only for ants in dry season: abundance of ants decreased with increasing distance down from the canopy top. We were surprised to have found taxon-specific patterns, which may be explained by highly variable canopy tree height, creating vertically heterogeneous micro-habitat conditions in this forest system.

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Acknowledgements

We thank James Cook University and staff at the Daintree Rainforest Observatory for the use of the canopy crane. TM acknowledges the Wet Tropics Management Authority for a Skyrail Rainforest Foundation student research Grant and James Cook University for granting him a Daintree Rainforest Observatory Scholarship. AN is supported by CAS-SEABRI (Chinese Academy of Sciences South-East Asian Biodiversity Research Institute) Key Area Expansion Projects (Grant No. Y4ZK111B01) and XTBG, CAS 135 plan—Direction One Project (2017XTBG-F01) and Breakthrough One Project (2017XTBG-T01).

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Correspondence to Nigel E. Stork.

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Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 4, 5, 6, 7 and Fig. 8.

Table 4 Summary results of ADMB GLMM and GLMM for taxon richness and total abundance of all invertebrates, showing the two types of vertical stratification measures and random factors chosen in each model
Table 5 Summary results of the GLMM ADMB and GLMM for species richness and total abundance of beetles, showing the two types of vertical stratification measures and random factors chosen in each model
Table 6 Summary results of the GLMM ADMB and GLMM for spider and ant abundances, showing the two types of vertical stratification measures and random factors chosen in each model
Table 7 Summary results of the GLMM ADMB and GLMM for cockroach and ant abundances, showing the two types of vertical stratification measures and random factors chosen in each model
Fig. 8
figure8

NMDS ordinations of beetle assemblage composition based on pair-wise Bray–Curtis similarity index of beetle species (abundance was square-root transf). Three ordinations are the same, but color coded based on declination from the canopy top (a), distance from the ground (b) and seasons (c)

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McCaig, T., Sam, L., Nakamura, A. et al. Is insect vertical distribution in rainforests better explained by distance from the canopy top or distance from the ground?. Biodivers Conserv 29, 1081–1103 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-019-01927-0

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Key words

  • Vertical stratification
  • Tropical forest
  • Insects
  • Australia
  • Canopy crane
  • Forest canopy