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Predator and parasitoid insects along elevational gradients: role of temperature and habitat diversity


Elevational gradients are characterized by strong abiotic variation within small geographical distances and provide a powerful tool to evaluate community response to variation in climatic and other environmental factors. We explored how temperature and habitat diversity shape the diversity of holometabolous predator and parasitoid insects along temperate elevational gradients in the European Alps. We surveyed insect communities along 12 elevational transects that were selected to separate effects of temperature from those of habitat diversity. Pitfall traps and pan traps were placed every 100 m of elevation increment along the transects ranging from 120 to 2200 m a.s.l. Sampling took place once a month from June to September 2015. Four groups characterized by having at least one life stage behaving as predator or parasitoid were examined: tachinids (Diptera), hoverflies (Diptera), sphecids (Hymenoptera) and ground beetles (Coleoptera). Species richness and evenness changed with elevation, but the shape and direction of the elevation–diversity patterns varied between groups. The effect of temperature on species richness was positive for all groups except for hoverflies. Habitat diversity did not affect species richness, while it modulated the evenness of most groups. Often, elevational patterns of species richness and evenness were contrasting. Our study indicates that natural enemies characterized by diverse ecological requirements can be differentially affected by temperature and habitat diversity across the same elevational gradients. As climate warming is predicted to increase mean annual temperatures and exacerbate weather variability, it is also expected to strongly influence natural enemies and their ability to regulate herbivore populations.

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We thank Dr. John O. Stireman (Wright State University, Dayton, OH) for his insightful comments and suggestions and for having linguistically revised the manuscript.

Author information

DC, LM and PC designed the study. DC and LM performed the analyses. DC and GS performed the insect sampling. Species identifications were performed by PC (tachinids), MM (sphecids), DP (hoverflies), and AVT (ground beetles). DC drafted the manuscript, with contributions of LM and PC. All authors contributed to interpret the results and to finalize the manuscript. The final draft was approved by all authors.

Correspondence to Daria Corcos.

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Communicated by Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter.

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Corcos, D., Cerretti, P., Mei, M. et al. Predator and parasitoid insects along elevational gradients: role of temperature and habitat diversity. Oecologia 188, 193–202 (2018).

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  • Altitudinal gradient
  • Climate change
  • Global warming
  • Natural enemies
  • Third trophic level