Aim To study the importance of ecological and geographical factors in explaining arthropod species composition on islands.
Location The Aeolian Islands, a volcanic archipelago in the central Mediterranean, near Sicily.
Methods The influence of island area, age, distance to the mainland, distance to the nearest island and land cover categories on species composition of arthropod groups was analysed using canonical correspondence analysis (CCA). The use of multiple animal groups in the same archipelago allowed the development of two complementary approaches based on CCA – a ‘taxon-focused’ approach and an ‘island-focused’ approach – to elucidate, respectively, how different taxa respond to the same environmental factors, and which factors are mainly responsible for the composition of the faunas in different locations.
Results Island area was an important factor in explaining species composition in Chilopoda, Orthoptera and Tenebrionidae. Distance to the mainland was important mainly for Carabidae. Distance to the closest island was important for many groups. By contrast, island age exerted a significant influence only on the species composition of Orthoptera. Various groups were influenced by a combination of broad-leaved forest and natural grassland.
Main conclusions The example of the arthropods of the Aeolian Islands indicates that the influence of a given island characteristic on species composition varies among groups, although measures of inter-island isolation were typically more important for taxa than isolation from the mainland source. This suggests that colonization of islands may occur mostly by stepping-stone dispersal.