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Moths and mountains: Diversity, altitude and latitude

Moths and mountains: Diversity, altitude and latitude
Louise Ashton


Griffith School of Environment Science, Griffith University, Nathan QLD 4111, AUSTRALIA.


Moth assemblages have been widely used to examine patterns of beta-diversity in forest ecosystems. This thesis aims to expand and test the generality of results obtained as part of the IBISCA-Queensland Project (Investigating Biodiversity of Soil and Canopy Arthropods-Qld) which examined patterns of diversity in a large sub-set of night-flying moths along an altitudinal gradient in subtropical rainforest. The permanent IBISCA-Qld transect, located in Lamington National Park (NP), in south-east Queensland, Australia, spans altitudes from 300 to 1,100 meters above sea level (m a.s.l.) within continuous rainforest. Along this transect, moth assemblages showed strong altitudinal stratification. A number of species were restricted to the Nothofagus moorei dominated cloud forest around 1,100m a.s.l., and may be the most threatened by climatic change. The IBISCA-Qld Project produced a set of moth species that could be included within a predictor set of taxa that may be useful for future monitoring of the impact of global warming on forest biodiversity.

The IBISCA-Qld study was predicated on the idea that a range of adjacent climates along a single altitudinal gradient can be taken as a surrogate for larger scale climatic changes which occur along latitudinal gradients. This thesis expands on the IBISCA-Qld Project by establishing a latitudinal network of analogous altitudinal transects, in Australia and south-west China (tropical, subtropical and sub-alpine temperate forests), allowing inter-continental comparisons on the generality of altitudinal patterns of diversity.

The aims of this PhD research are to:
(1) Assess the richness and assemblage structure of moths along a series of altitudinal gradients within rainforest, along the east coast of Australia and south-west China, (2) examine the differences in assemblage turnover at different taxonomic resolutions across altitude and latitude, (3) identify which species are most important in driving altitudinal and latitudinal changes in assemblage structure and which may be useful as indicator species for climate change monitoring, (4) investigate the degree to which moth fauna are vertically stratified, across altitude and latitude. Lepidoptera were sampled along altitudinal gradients at, Mt Lewis NP (tropical) and Border Ranges NP (subtropical) in Australia, and in Mengla (tropical), Ailao Shan (sub-tropical) and Lijiang (temperate) sites in Yunnan Provence, China. In total, 118,035 individual moths were collected and identified as part of this research. Here, I present the results in a series of papers, each focusing on different aspects of the diversity and distribution of this key group of insect herbivores.