From forest to pasture: an evaluation of the influence of environment and biogeography on the structure of beetle (Scarabaeinae) assemblages along three altitudinal gradients in the Neotropical region


  • Federico Escobar,

  • Gonzalo Halffter,

  • Lucrecia Arellano

F. Escobar (, G. Halffter and L. Arellano, Dept de Biodiversidad y Comportamiento Animal, Inst. De Ecología A.C., Apartado Postal 63, 91000 Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. (Present address of F. E.: Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Univ. of Pretoria, 0002 Pretoria, South Africa.)


The objective of this study is to evaluate the effect of environmental (associated with the expansion of cattle ranching) and biogeographical factors on the diversity of dung beetle (Scarabaeinae) assemblages along three altitudinal gradients in the Neotropical region. One gradient is located in the Mexican Transition Zone, on the Cofre de Perote mountain, the other two are in the northern Andes (the Chiles Volcano and the Río Cusiana Basin). For the three gradients, the number of species and of individuals was similar in both forest and pasture, while species composition was different between habitats. On this mountain, species turnover in pastures was characterized by the addition of new species as altitude increased. In the northern Andes, species diversity was always greater in the forest than in the pasture, and species turnover between habitats was notably influenced by species loss with increasing altitude. As such the pasture fauna of the northern Andes was an impoverished derivative of the fauna present in the forests at the same altitude characterized by species of Neotropical affinity with a limited capacity for colonizing open, sunnier habitats. The opposite occurs in the areas used by cattle on the Cofre de Perote. This habitat has its own fauna, which is mainly comprised of Holarctic and Afrotropical species adapted to the prevailing environmental conditions of areas lacking arboreal vegetation. These results suggest that the impact on beetle communities caused by human activities can differ depending on the geographic position of each mountain and, particularly, the biogeographical history of the species assemblage that lives there.