Terrestrial insects along elevation gradients: species and community responses to altitude



The literature on the response of insect species to the changing environments experienced along altitudinal gradients is diverse and widely dispersed. There is a growing awareness that such responses may serve as analogues for climate warming effects occurring at a particular fixed altitude or latitude over time. This review seeks, therefore, to synthesise information on the responses of insects and allied groups to increasing altitude and provide a platform for future research. It focuses on those functional aspects of insect biology that show positive or negative reaction to altitudinal changes but avoids emphasising adaptation to high altitude per se. Reactions can be direct, with insect characteristics or performance responding to changing environmental parameters, or they can be indirect and mediated through the insect's interaction with other organisms. These organisms include the host plant in the case of herbivorous insects, and also competitor species, specific parasitoids, predators and pathogens. The manner in which these various factors individually and collectively influence the morphology, behaviour, ecophysiology, growth and development, survival, reproduction, and spatial distribution of insect species is considered in detail. Resultant patterns in the abundance of individual species populations and of community species richness are examined. Attempts are made throughout to provide mechanistic explanations of trends and to place each topic, where appropriate, into the broader theoretical context by appropriate reference to key literature. The paper concludes by considering how montane insect species will respond to climate warming.