Aim To undertake a quantitative review of the Quaternary fossil record of European water beetles to evaluate their geographical and temporal coverage, and to characterize the extent and typology of the shifts in their geographical ranges.
Methods We compiled Quaternary water beetle records from public databases and published references. We included in the analyses species of 10 families of aquatic Coleoptera, and recorded range shifts through the comparison of the location of fossil remains with the current distribution of the species. We explored the ecological representativeness of the fossil record, as well as the relationship between range shifts and the habitat type of the species.
Results Our final data set included over 9000 records for 259 water beetle species. Fossil remains of aquatic beetles have been documented exclusively north of 42° N, with most of the records from the British Isles and virtually none from southern Europe or the Mediterranean Basin. Over 80% of the records were from the Late Glacial and the Holocene periods (the last 15 kyr), and overall approximately 20% of the species have been recorded outside their present range (23% excluding Holocene records). Most range shifts were southern or western extensions of currently widespread, northern species, with 10 species displaying major range shifts through the Palaearctic. Lentic species were significantly more likely to have experienced major range shifts, even accounting for the general ecological bias of the fossil record towards lentic habitats.
Main conclusions Our results show that the Quaternary record of aquatic Coleoptera is geographically, temporally and ecologically skewed, necessitating caution when extrapolating general conclusions about range changes and ecological stability to other areas or periods on the basis of such scattered evidence. Most central and northern European species for which there are fossil records seem to have conserved their ranges through the Late Pleistocene, with geographical shifts mostly restricted to species with current widespread north Palaearctic or Holarctic distributions. Major range shifts through the Palaearctic are taxonomically uneven, suggesting either an idiosyncratic behaviour of taxa depending on ecological or phylogenetic factors, or a sampling artefact produced by the limited availability of taxonomic expertise.