• Carabids;
  • dolomites;
  • global change;
  • mountain


Very little is known about the changes of ground beetle assemblages in the last few decades in the Alps, and different responses to climate change of animal populations living above and below the treeline have not been estimated yet. This study focuses on an altitudinal habitat sequence from subalpine spruce forest to alpine grassland in a low disturbance area of the southeastern Dolomites in Italy, the Paneveggio Regional Park. We compared the ground beetle (Carabidae) populations sampled in 1980 in six stands below and above the treeline (1650–2250 m a.s.l.) with those sampled in the same sites almost 30 years later (2008/9). Quantitative data (species richness and abundance) have been compared by means of several diversity indexes and with a new index, the Index of Rank-abundance Change (IRC). Our work shows that species richness and abundance have changed after almost 30 years as a consequence of local extinctions, uphill increment of abundance and uphill shift of distribution range. The overall species number dropped from 36 to 27, while in the sites above the treeline, species richness and abundance changed more than in the forest sites. Two microtherm characteristic species of the pioneer cushion grass mats, Nebria germari and Trechus dolomitanus, became extinct or showed strong abundance reduction. In Nardetum pastures, several hygrophilic species disappeared, and xerophilic zoophytophagous elements raised their population density. In forest ecosystems, the precipitation reduction caused deep soil texture and watering changes, driving a transformation from Sphagnum-rich (peaty) to humus-rich soil, and as a consequence, soil invertebrate biomass strongly increased and thermophilic carabids enriched the species structure. In three decades, Carabid assemblages changed consistently with the hypothesis that climate change is one of the main factors triggering natural environment modifications. Furthermore, the level of human disturbance could enhance the sensitivity of mountain ecosystems to climate change.