• Butterflies;
  • conservation;
  • desert;
  • environmental change;
  • Great Basin;
  • species composition;
  • species richness


Aim We tested whether variation in snapshots of butterfly species composition and species richness taken from one to six years apart could be interpreted as an ecologically meaningful trend or whether they might merely reflect stochasticity.

Location Field research was conducted in the Toquima Range and Shoshone Mountains, Lander and Nye counties, Nevada, USA.

Methods We obtained data for 49 sites in the Toquima Range from 1996 to 2002 and 39 sites in the Shoshone Mountains from 2000 to 2002. Sites spanned the gradient of local topographic and climatic conditions in those mountain ranges. Data on species composition and species richness were based on comprehensive field inventories. We calculated similarity of species composition using the Jaccard index. We conducted one-factor repeated-measures analyses of variance to test whether the distribution of similarity of species composition and the distribution of mean species richness depended on the number of years between inventories.

Results In both mountain ranges, much less of the difference in species composition was attributable to turnover of species composition within sites over time than to spatial differences among sites. Annual species richness in the Toquima Range was more variable than in the Shoshone Mountains, but again far less of the variation in species richness was attributable to year than to differences among sites.

Main conclusions Despite the fact that desert ecosystems are not expected to be highly resilient to global environmental change, there may be a time lag between deterministic environmental changes and a detectable faunal response, even in taxonomic groups that are known to be sensitive to changes in climate and vegetation. Although information on species richness and similarity of species composition are among the most practical data to collect in managed landscapes, these measures may not be highly sensitive to environmental changes over the short to moderate term.