Tropical forests are not flat: how mountains affect herbivore diversity




Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 1348–1357


Ecologists debate whether tropical insect diversity is better explained by higher plant diversity or by host plant species specialization. However, plant–herbivore studies are primarily based in lowland rainforests (RF) thus excluding topographical effects on biodiversity. We examined turnover in Eois (Geometridae) communities across elevation by studying elevational transects in Costa Rica and Ecuador. We found four distinct Eois communities existing across the elevational gradients. Herbivore diversity was highest in montane forests (MF), whereas host plant diversity was highest in lowland RF. This was correlated with higher specialization and species richness of Eois/host plant species we found in MF. Based on these relationships, Neotropical Eois richness was estimated to range from 313 (only lowland RF considered) to 2034 (considering variation with elevation). We conclude that tropical herbivore diversity and diet breadth covary significantly with elevation and urge the inclusion of montane ecosystems in host specialization and arthropod diversity estimates.