1. Effects of climate change, such as higher average temperatures and earlier snowmelt, are already apparent, especially in alpine regions. However, community responses of functionally important arthropod taxa to changing climatic conditions are mostly unknown.
2. In this study, an earlier snowmelt was simulated at 15 plots along an elevational gradient in the German Alps. At each study site, soil emergence traps were established for sampling soil-hibernating arthropods on earlier and control snowmelt treatments during the growing season. The abundance and emergence phenology of the five most common arthropod orders (Araneae, Coleoptera, Diptera, Hemiptera, Hymenoptera) were analysed, as well as the species richness of Coleoptera.
3. There was increasing abundance and species richness of Coleoptera along the elevational gradient, indicating that at higher altitudes more individuals and species hibernate in the soil. Abundances of Diptera also increased with elevation. By contrast, abundances of Hemiptera declined with increasing elevation, while abundances of Araneae and Hymenoptera did not show significant elevational patterns. Arthropods at higher elevations emerged, on average, 5 weeks later than arthropods at lower elevations, because of a longer-lasting snow cover. The earlier snowmelt treatment resulted in higher abundances of Araneae and Hymenoptera compared with the control plots, indicating that the time of snowmelt influenced the abundance of predators, such as spiders or parasitic wasps, more than that of herbivores.
4. An earlier emergence of certain arthropod guilds and a change in relative abundance of guilds might desynchronise species interactions, leading to a possible loss of biodiversity.