Elevational species richness gradients in a hyperdiverse insect taxon: a global meta-study on geometrid moths

Jan Beck*, Christy M. McCain, Jan C. Axmacher, Louise A. Ashton, Florian Bärtschi, Gunnar Brehm, Sei Woong Choi, Oldrich Cizek, Robert K. Colwell, Konrad Fiedler, Cristina L. Francois, Steven Highland, Jeremy D. Holloway, Jurie Intachat, Tomas Kadlec, Roger L. Kitching, Sarah C. Maunsell, Thomas Merckx, Akihiro Nakamura, Erica OdellWeiguo Sang, Pagi S. Toko, Jaroslav Zamecnik, Yi Zou, Vojtech Novotny

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)


Aims: We aim to document elevational richness patterns of geometrid moths in a globally replicated, multi-gradient setting, and to test general hypotheses on environmental and spatial effects (i.e. productivity, temperature, precipitation, area, mid-domain effect and human habitat disturbance) on these richness patterns. Location: Twenty-six elevational gradients world-wide (latitudes 28° S to 51° N). Methods: We compiled field datasets on elevational gradients for geometrid moths, a lepidopteran family, and documented richness patterns across each gradient while accounting for local undersampling of richness. Environmental and spatial predictor variables as well as habitat disturbance were used to test various hypotheses. Our analyses comprised two pathways: univariate correlations within gradients, and multivariate modelling on pooled data after correcting for overall variation in richness among different gradients. Results: The majority of gradients showed midpeak patterns of richness, irrespective of climate and geographical location. The exclusion of human-affected sampling plots did not change these patterns. Support for univariate main drivers of richness was generally low, although there was idiosyncratic support for particular predictors on single gradients. Multivariate models, in agreement with univariate results, provided the strongest support for an effect of area-integrated productivity, or alternatively for an elevational area effect. Temperature and the mid-domain effect received support as weaker, modulating covariates, while precipitation-related variables had no explanatory potential. Main conclusions: Despite the predicted decreasing diversity–temperature relationship in ectotherms, geometrid moths are similar to ants and salamanders as well as small mammals and ferns in having predominantly their highest diversity at mid-elevations. As in those comparative analyses, single or clear sets of drivers are elusive, but both productivity and area appear to be influential. More comparative elevational studies for various insect taxa are necessary for a more comprehensive understanding of elevational diversity and productivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)412-424
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • Altitude
  • Lepidoptera
  • diversity
  • productivity
  • species-area relationship
  • temperature
  • tropical mountains

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