• Body length;
  • climate change;
  • Forni Glacier;
  • ground beetles;
  • wing morphology

Abstract 1. The spatio-temporal approach was used to evaluate the environmental features influencing carabid beetle assemblages along a chronosequence of an Italian Alpine glacier foreland. The influence of environmental variables on species richness, morphology (wing and body length), and distribution along the chronosequence was tested.

2. Species richness was found to be a poor indicator of habitat due to weak influences by environmental variables. It seems that the neighbouring habitats of a glacier foreland are not able to determine significant changes in carabid species richness.

3. Instead it appears that history (age since deglaciation) and habitat architecture of a glacier foreland are strongly correlated to species adaptive morphological traits, such as wing morphology and body length. Assemblages characterised by species with reduced wing size are linked to the older stages of the chronosequence, where habitat is more structured. Assemblages characterised by the largest species are linked to the younger sites near the glacier. These morphological differentiations are explained in detail.

4. Habitat age can therefore be considered the main force determining assemblage composition. On the basis of the relationship between morphological traits and environmental variables, it seems likely that age since deglaciation is the main variable influencing habitat structure (primary effect) on the Forni foreland. The strong relationship between carabid assemblages and habitat type indicates that site age has but a secondary effect on carabid assemblages. This may be utilised to interpret potential changes in assemblages linked to future glacier retreat.