Aim Data and analyses of elevational gradients in diversity have been central to the development and evaluation of a range of general theories of biodiversity. Elevational diversity patterns have, however, been severely understudied for microbes, which often represent decomposer subsystems. Consequently, generalities in the patterns of elevational diversity across different trophic levels remain poorly understood. Our aim was to examine elevational gradients in the diversity of macroinvertebrates, diatoms and bacteria along a stony stream that covered a large elevational gradient.
Location Laojun Mountain, Yunnan province, China.
Methods The sampling scheme included 26 sites spaced at elevational intervals of 89 m from 1820 to 4050 m elevation along a stony stream. Macroinvertebrate and diatom richness were determined based on the morphology of the specimens. Taxonomic richness for bacteria was quantified using a molecular fingerprinting method. Over 50 environmental variables were measured at each site to quantify environmental variables that could correlate with the patterns of diversity. We used eigenvector-based spatial filters with multiple regressions to account for spatial autocorrelation.
Results The bacterial richness followed an unexpected monotonic increase with elevation. Diatoms decreased monotonically, and macroinvertebrate richness showed a clear unimodal pattern with elevation. The unimodal richness pattern for macroinvertebrates was best explained by the mid-domain effect (r2 = 0.72). The diatom richness was best explained by the variation in nutrient supply, and the increase in bacterial richness with elevation may be related to an increased carbon supply.
Main conclusions We found contrasting patterns in elevational diversity among the three studied multi-trophic groups comprising unicellular and multicellular aquatic taxa. We also found that there may be fundamental differences in the mechanisms underlying these species diversity patterns.