Vertical stratification of feeding guilds and body size in beetle assemblages from an Australian tropical rainforest



Abstract  The vertical stratification of insect species assemblages inhabiting tropical rainforests is well established but few have examined whether these patterns are reflected in vertical stratification of body size or feeding guilds. We used Malaise and Flight Interception Traps to sample beetle assemblages from five locations, at both canopy and ground zones of a tropical lowland rainforest site near Cape Tribulation, Australia. Beetles from 4 years of sampling were sorted to Family and morphospecies, and allocated to one of five feeding guilds. Within feeding guilds the number of species and individuals, from canopy- and ground-caught traps were compared. The body lengths of species were measure and compared within feeding guilds and families. Herbivores was the dominant guild but was not the majority of all species or individuals. Most beetle species (69%) were less than 5 mm in length and the mean size of canopy-caught species was greater than that for ground-caught species. This was probably due to slightly more species of plant feeders (herbivores and xylophages) present in the canopy, which were significantly larger than saprophages, fungivores and predators. Among feeding guilds, there were few overall canopy–ground differences. These results contrast with species composition results presented elsewhere where strong differences between the canopy and the ground were evident. We suggest that our guild groupings may have been too coarse to detect fine-scale differences and that resource partitioning may have also masked faunal stratification. We propose that fine-scale differences in resources between the canopy and the ground, together with strong microclimate gradients, are likely to be important in structuring the vertical stratification of insect assemblages at the level of species, but not with respect to functional groups.