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Influence of climate changes on animal communities in space and time: the case of spider assemblages along an alpine glacier foreland


Mauro Gobbi, tel. +39 0250314722, fax +39 0250314713, e-mail:


The impact of global warming in space and time is described for species assemblages of wandering spiders along the alpine glacier foreland of the Forni Valley (Northern Italy). We tested the effect of environmental variables (e.g. elevation, age of glacier retreat, vegetation cover, debris cover) on species richness and on species composition of spiders. Age of glacier retreat was the only significant variable influencing spider species assemblages in the valley. A spatially structured distribution of species and species assemblages along the chronosequence of glacier retreat was evidenced. The threshold abruptly differentiating two groups of species richness and species composition fell between sites deglaciated 100 and 155 years before the analysis. Latitudinal shifts towards the poles in species ranges at the global scale in response to climatic changes are known, and an altitudinal shift in species range should be expected for spiders at the local scale of the Forni Valley. Such a shift is present in spider species assemblages, although not as an expected gradual change in species richness and composition, but with a threshold effect after one century of glacier retreat. We discuss our results in the light of plausible future scenarios due to global warming, the consequence of further glacier retreats onto spiders, and caveats for monitoring studies.