• ants;
  • climate;
  • diversity;
  • elevational gradient;
  • Nevada;
  • NPP;
  • species richness;
  • U.S.A


Aim In this study, we examine patterns of local and regional ant species richness along three elevational gradients in an arid ecosystem. In addition, we test the hypothesis that changes in ant species richness with elevation are related to elevation-dependent changes in climate and available area.

Location Spring Mountains, Nevada, U.S.A.

Methods We used pitfall traps placed at each 100-m elevational band in three canyons in the Spring Mountains. We compiled climate data from 68 nearby weather stations. We used multiple regression analysis to examine the effects of annual precipitation, average July precipitation, and maximum and minimum July temperature on ant species richness at each elevational band.

Results We found that patterns of local ant species richness differed among the three gradients we sampled. Ant species richness increased linearly with elevation along two transects and peaked at mid-elevation along a third transect. This suggests that patterns of species richness based on data from single transects may not generalize to larger spatial scales. Cluster analysis of community similarity revealed a high-elevation species assemblage largely distinct from that of lower elevations. Major changes in the identity of ant species present along elevational gradients tended to coincide with changes in the dominant vegetation. Regional species richness, defined here as the total number of unique species within an elevational band in all three gradients combined, tended to increase with increasing elevation. Available area decreased with increasing elevation. Area was therefore correlated negatively with ant species richness and did not explain elevational patterns of ant species richness in the Spring Mountains. Mean July maximum and minimum temperature, July precipitation and annual precipitation combined to explain 80% of the variation in ant species richness.

Main conclusions Our results suggest that in arid ecosystems, species richness for some taxa may be highest at high elevations, where lower temperatures and higher precipitation may support higher levels of primary production and cause lower levels of physiological stress.