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Faunal composition of geometrid moths changes with altitude in an Andean montane rain forest

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Abstract Aim 

The objective of this study was to describe and interpret the changes in faunal composition in the moth family Geometridae (Lepidoptera) along a small-scale elevational gradient in a tropical montane rain forest. This gradient was compared with a large-scale latitudinal gradient in Europe. Location

Investigations were carried out in the province Zamora-Chinchipe in southern Ecuador along a gradient ranging from 1040 to 2677 m above sea level at twenty-two sites. Methods 

Moths were sampled with light-traps in three field periods in 1999 and 2000 and subsequently sorted and determined to species or morphospecies. Results 

We analysed 13,938 specimens representing 1010 species of geometrid moths. The proportional contribution of subtaxa to the local geometrid fauna changes along the elevational gradient at all systematic levels considered. While proportions of species of the subfamilies Ennominae, Sterrhinae and Geometrinae significantly decrease, the proportion of Larentiinae increases with increasing altitude. Changes also occur within the subfamilies Ennominae and Larentiinae. The host–plant specialist ennomine tribes Cassymini, Macariini and Palyadini completely vanish, and the proportion of the tribe Boarmiini decreases at high altitudes. In contrast, the remaining tribes (mostly comprising polyphagous species) either do not show proportional changes (Azelinini, Nacophorini, Nephodiini, Ourapterygini) or even increase (Caberini, ‘Cratoptera group’). Within Larentiinae, the species proportion of the genus Eois decreases, whereas concomitantly the proportion of Eupithecia increases. There is a remarkable similarity between the altitudinal patterns in Ecuador and those found along the latitudinal gradient in Europe. Main conclusions 

Species of the subfamily Larentiinae seem to be particularly well-adapted to harsh environmental conditions, towards both high altitudes and latitudes. They might disproportionately profit from lower predation at higher altitudes. Many changes in the faunal composition can be explained by expected host–plant requirements of the species involved. Our results show that diversity estimates based on taxon ratios which are assumed to be constant must be regarded with caution because such ratios can change rapidly along environmental gradients.
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Keywords: Ennominae; Geometridae; Larentiinae; biodiversity indicators; elevational gradient; host–plant specialists; indicator taxa; latitudinal gradient; taxon ratios

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Animal Ecology I, University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany

Publication date: 2003-03-01

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