Patterns of biodiversity in the northwestern Italian Alps: a multi-taxa approach

Abstract

The current loss of biodiversity requires long-term monitoring of the distribution of living organisms, particularly in regions, such as mountains, which are highly sensitive to climatic and environmental changes. In 2007, three alpine parks in N-W Italy started a field program to determine the factors which influence animal biodiversity and identify the most appropriate methods for periodically repeatable monitoring. Twelve altitudinal transects (from montane to alpine belt) were chosen, each composed of 4–7 sampling units, for a total of 69 monitored plots. In each station, five taxonomic groups (carabids, butterflies, spiders, staphylinids, birds) were systematically sampled and topographic, environmental and micro-climatic variables were recorded. The aim was to assess the distribution of different taxa along altitudinal gradients and the relative influence of geographical, environmental and climatic factors. The data showed that species richness and community composition of invertebrates are mainly determined by altitude and microclimatic conditions, whereas birds are more sensitive to habitat structure. For invertebrates, the strong relationship with temperature suggests their potential sensitivity to climatic variations. The analysis of biodiversity patterns across vegetation belts indicated that the alpine belt hosts few species but a high percentage of endemic and vulnerable species, highlighting its importance for conservation purposes. This work offers a representative sample of the northwestern Italian Alps and it is a first step of a monitoring effort that will be repeated every five years to highlight the response of alpine biodiversity to climate and land-use changes.

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Viterbi, R., Cerrato, C., Bassano, B. et al. Patterns of biodiversity in the northwestern Italian Alps: a multi-taxa approach. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY 14, 18–30 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1556/ComEc.14.2013.1.3

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Keywords

  • Animal diversity
  • Altitudinal gradient
  • Climate sensitivity
  • Community composition
  • Temperature