Aim Relationships between elevation and litter-dweller harvestman (Arachnida: Opiliones) species richness along three elevational gradients in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest were evaluated. Specifically, three candidate explanatory factors for the observed patterns were tested: (1) the mid-domain effect, (2) the Rapoport effect, and (3) the influence of environmental variables on species density and specimen abundance.
Location Cuscuzeiro, Corcovado and Capricórnio mountains, in Ubatuba (23°26′ S, 45°04′ W), a coastal municipality in São Paulo state, south-eastern Brazil.
Methods We recorded harvestman species and abundance through active sampling using 8 × 8-m plots in both summer and winter. At each plot we measured the temperature, humidity and mean litter depth. Harvestman species richness per elevational band was the sum of all species recorded in each band, plus the species supposed to occur due to the interpolation of the upper and lower elevational records. Differences between observed and expected species richness per elevational band, based on the mid-domain effect, were examined through a Monte Carlo simulation. The Rapoport effect was evaluated using both the midpoint method and a new procedure proposed here, the ‘specimen method’. We applied multiple regression analysis to evaluate the contribution of each environmental variable (elevation, temperature, humidity and litter depth) on species density and specimen abundance per plot.
Results Harvestman abundance and species richness decreased at higher elevations in the three mountains. The decrease in species richness was not monotonic and showed a plateau of high species richness at lower elevations. The number of harvestman species per elevational band does not fit that predicted by the mid-domain effect based solely on geometric constraints assuming hard boundaries. Species with their midpoints at higher elevations tended to cover broader elevational range sizes. Both the midpoint method and the specimen method detected evidence of the Rapoport effect in the data. At fine spatial scales, temperature and humidity had positive effects on species density and specimen abundance, while mean litter depth had no clear effect. These relationships, however, were not constant between seasons.
Main conclusions Our results suggest that harvestman species density declines at higher elevations due to restrictions imposed by temperature and humidity. We found a pattern in species range distribution as predicted by the elevational Rapoport effect. However, the usual rescue effect proposed to explain the Rapoport effect does not apply in our study. Since the majority of harvestman species covering broader elevational ranges do not exhibit reduced abundance at low elevations, an alternative rescue effect is proposed here. According to this alternative rescue effect, the decrease in species richness at higher elevations occurs due to differential upper limits of species with source populations below mid-elevations. The seasonal differences in the relationships between environmental variables and species richness/specimen abundance per plot is an indication that species occurrence on elevational gradients is seasonally dependent. Thus relationships and hypotheses based on data recorded over short time periods, or in a single season, should be viewed cautiously.
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