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Variation in invertebrate–bryophyte community structure at different spatial scales along altitudinal gradients

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Abstract Aim 

This study assessed changes in diversity and assemblage composition in bryophytes and their associated invertebrates along altitudinal gradients in Australia and New Zealand. The importance of altitude in shaping these communities and for the diversity of both invertebrates and bryophytes was examined at different spatial scales, including local, altitudinal, regional and biogeographical. Location 

Samples were taken from four Australasian mountain ranges between 42° and 43°S: Mt Field and Mt Rufus, Tasmania, Australia, and Otira Valley and Seaward Kaikoura Mountains, South Island, New Zealand. Methods 

On both Tasmanian mountains, five altitudes were assessed (250, 500, 750, 1000 and 1250 m). At each location (mountain/altitude combination) two sites were chosen and six samples were taken. Six altitudes were assessed on New Zealand mountains (Otira: 250, 500, 750, 1000, 1250 and 1500 m; Kaikoura: 1130, 1225, 1325, 1425, 1525 and 2000 m). Bryophyte substrate was collected, and all samples were stored in 70% ethanol. Invertebrates were extracted from bryophytes using kerosene-phase separation and all invertebrates were identified to family. At each location in Tasmania, all bryophyte species within six 25-cm2 grids per site were collected and identified to species. Bryophytes from New Zealand were identified to species from the invertebrate sample substrate because of sampling constraints. Results 

Altitude did have a significant effect on diversity, however, no general trend was found along the altitudinal gradient on the four mountains. There were distinct differences in diversity between biogeographical regions, mountains, altitudes and sites. In Tasmania, Mt Field had the highest diversity in invertebrates and bryophytes at 750 m. In contrast, Mt Rufus had consistent low invertebrate and bryophyte diversity along the entire altitudinal gradient. There were also distinctive differences between locations in the composition of invertebrate and bryophyte communities in Tasmania. Along the two altitudinal gradients in New Zealand, Otira had highest diversity for both invertebrates and bryophytes at low altitudes, whereas Kaikoura had highest invertebrate and lowest bryophyte diversity at the highest altitude. Main conclusions 

There was an effect of altitude, however, there were no consistent changes in diversity or composition on the four different mountains. There was considerable local and regional variation, and, despite a strong sampling design, no underlying altitudinal trends were detectable. This study demonstrates the importance of examining a range of spatial scales if patterns in community structure along altitudinal gradients are to be studied. The implications of this study are discussed with reference to survey design, taxonomic resolution, climate change and conservation of habitat.
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Keywords: Bryophytes; New Zealand; Tasmania; altitudinal gradient; climate change; conservation; invertebrates; regional diversity; spatial scales

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Publication date: May 1, 2003

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