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Beetle species’ responses suggest that microclimate mediates fragmentation effects in tropical Australian rainforest

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Abstract

Abstract  Despite the enormous contribution of invertebrates to global biodiversity and ecosystem function, the patterns and causes of insect responses to tropical rainforest destruction and fragmentation remain poorly understood. We studied the responses of beetles to these factors in a fragmented upland rainforest landscape in north-east Queensland, Australia. Beetles were sampled using flight interception traps from six replicate sites in rainforest interior, rainforest edge, small rainforest remnants and pasture, interspersed across about 600 km2. Beetles from 10 family/subfamily groups were sorted to species. There were three major findings. First, converting rainforest into pasture has a very strong negative effect on beetle diversity and species composition. Very few beetle species were present in pasture and none of the most abundant species was more abundant in pasture than rainforest. Second, beetle assemblages appeared to respond to climate. Beetle species composition in drier rainforest habitats was different from that of moister rainforest and there were species unique to each rainforest type. Third, beetle species composition differed between small remnants and interior rainforest: drier-associated species were more abundant in small remnants, whereas wetter-associated species were more abundant in interiors. Edges tended to be intermediate. We argue that this pattern can be attributed to a fragmentation effect mediated by differences in microclimate rather than by floristic, structural, or area and isolation effects.

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