Patterns of elevational beta diversity in micro- and macroorganisms


Ji Shen, State Key Laboratory of Lake Science and Environment, Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, CAS, Nanjing, 210008, China. E-mail: Janne Soininen, Department of Environmental Sciences, PO Box 65, FIN-00014, University of Helsinki, Finland. E-mail:


Aim  While ecologists have long been interested in diversity in mountain regions, elevational patterns in beta diversity are still rarely studied across different life forms ranging from micro- to macroorganisms. Also, it is not known whether the patterns in turnover among organism groups are affected by the degree to which the environment is modified by human activities.

Location  Laojun Mountain, Yunnan Province, China.

Methods  The beta diversity patterns of benthic microorganisms (i.e. diatoms and bacteria) and macroorganisms (i.e. macroinvertebrates) in a stony stream were simultaneously investigated between elevations of 1820 and 4050 m. Data were analysed by using a distance-based approach and variation partitioning based on canonical redundancy analysis.

Results  Analyses of community dissimilarities between adjacent sampling sites showed comparable small-scale beta diversity along the elevational gradient for the organism groups. However, bacteria clearly showed the lowest elevational turnover when analyses were conducted simultaneously for all pairwise sites. Variation partitioning indicated that species turnover was mostly related to environmental heterogeneity and spatial gradients including horizontal distance and elevation, while purely human impacts were shown to be less important.

Main conclusions  The elevational beta diversity at large scales was lower for bacteria than for eukaryotic microorganisms or macroorganisms, perhaps indicative of high dispersal ability and good adaptability of bacteria to harsh environmental conditions. However, the small-scale beta diversity did not differ among the groups. Elevation was the major driver for the turnover of eukaryotic organisms, while the turnover of bacteria was correlated more with environmental variation.