Elevational Distribution of Flightless Ground Beetles in the Tropical Rainforests of North-Eastern Australia
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Understanding how the environment influences patterns of diversity is vital for effective conservation management, especially in a changing global climate. While assemblage structure and species richness patterns are often correlated with current environmental factors, historical influences may also be considerable, especially for taxa with poor dispersal abilities. Mountain-top regions throughout tropical rainforests can act as important refugia for taxa characterised by low dispersal capacities such as flightless ground beetles (Carabidae), an ecologically significant predatory group. We surveyed flightless ground beetles along elevational gradients in five different subregions within the Australian Wet Tropics World Heritage Area to investigate (1) whether the diversity and composition of flightless ground beetles are elevationally stratified, and, if so, (2) what environmental factors (other than elevation per se) are associated with these patterns. Generalised linear models and model averaging techniques were used to relate patterns of diversity to environmental factors. Unlike most taxonomic groups, flightless ground beetles increased in species richness and abundance with elevation. Additionally, each subregion consisted of relatively distinct assemblages containing a high level of regional endemic species. Species richness was most strongly and positively associated with historical and current climatic stabilities and negatively associated with severity of recent disturbance (treefalls). Assemblage composition was associated with latitude and historical and current climatic conditions. Although the results need to be interpreted carefully due to inter-correlation between historical and current climatic variables, our study is in agreement with the hypothesis that upland refugia provided stable climatic conditions since the last glacial maximum, and supported a diverse fauna of flightless beetle species. These findings are important for conservation management as upland habitats become increasingly threatened by climate change.
© 2016 Staunton et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.