Aims We examine the role of species–area relationships (SARs), climatic parameters and phylogeny in shaping the altitudinal species richness patterns of moths. With respect to SARs, we investigate whether habitat heterogeneity is a probable mechanism for mediating area effects. We investigate the consistency of patterns by comparing several discrete regions.
Location Nine mountainous regions in tropical Asia and the Malay Archipelago.
Methods Presence-only records for 292 species of the Lepidopteran family Sphingidae were used to measure interpolated species richness in 200-m altitudinal bands. Species richness was correlated with area measures, which were calculated from both two-dimensional map projections and three-dimensional digital elevation models (DEMs). We used data simulations of homogeneous communities to test for effects of sample (i.e. habitat) heterogeneity as a mechanism causing SARs. Species richness patterns were compared among regions and between the two major sphingid clades, and were related to regional climatic characteristics.
Results The area of altitudinal bands was a strong (statistical) explanation of species richness, particularly if area was calculated from three-dimensional DEMs, but SARs often over-predict species richness in lowland areas. There was no evidence for habitat heterogeneity as a mechanism of altitudinal SARs (tested for Borneo only). Species richness patterns varied considerably between the nine regions, which may, as an alternative to SARs, be explained by climatic differences such as (temperature) seasonality. Phylogenetic clades differed in species richness patterns exhibited.
Main conclusion SARs provide strong empirical explanations for (regional) altitudinal patterns of species richness, but lack of evidence for the most likely mechanism cautions against a priori ‘corrections’ of species richness data for area. Furthermore, SARs are often not a sufficient explanation for the drop in species richness towards lowlands. Climate, or other collinear variables, may offer alternative explanations for altitudinal SARs. More research is needed to understand the mechanisms for SARs in an altitudinal context in order to evaluate their importance in the face of parameter collinearity.