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The vertical distribution of pronophiline butterflies (Nymphalidae, Satyrinae) along an elevational transect in Monte Zerpa (Cordillera de Mérida, Venezuela) with remarks on their diversity and parapatric distribution

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Abstract

Aim The distribution of neotropical butterflies of the tribe Pronophilini (Lepidoptera, Satyridae) was analysed with the aim of determining (i) the elevational ranges of distribution of each species (ii) the elevational gradient in diversity, and (iii) the existence of parapatric distributions of some closely related species pairs.

Location The field study was carried out in the middle and upper section of the valley of the Río Albarregas, a tributary of the Río Chama on the southern slopes of the Serranía de la Culata, in the central part of the Cordillera de Mérida, Venezuela.

Methods The material was collected along an elevational transect set on a trail leading from Merida to the Páramo de Los Conejos in the area known as Monte Zerpa. It consisted of a series of 32 collection sites set at every 25 m of altitude and covered an elevation from 2250 m to 3025 m.

Results The ranges of Lymanopoda obsoleta, L. albocincta, L. zapatoza, Corades chelonis, C. pannonia, C. medeba, Mygona irmina, Pedaliodes epidipnis, P. japhleta, P. montagna and P. panyasis were all restricted to the lower half of the cloud forest zone and L. diezti, C. pax, P. polla, P. ornata and P. ferratilis were all restricted to the upper part. Two species, Erethris porphyria and Steroma bega, crossed the entire elevational range of the cloud forest zone.The biodiversity, as measured by Shannon’s index, attained a maximum at 2700 m, beyond which it gradually decreased. A parapatric distribution was confirmed for three pairs of closely related species: L. obsoleta and L. diezti, C. chelonis and C. pax and P. montagna and P. ferratilis.

Main conclusions The peak in diversity at middle elevations seems to result from the overlapping ranges of species distributed over lower and upper parts of the cloud forest. Correlation of species composition at particular transect sites with elevation showed that increase in elevation was associated with an increase in species composition difference. Post-mating isolation was suggested as a primary factor responsible for maintaining the parapatric distributions of species occupying the upper and lower zones and preventing their respective distributions from expanding.

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