Do sub-groups of butterflies display different elevational distribution patterns in the Eastern Himalaya, India?
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionFrontiers of Biogeography. 2021, 13 (3), e49643. 10.21425/F5FBG49643
Understanding the pattern of biodiversity along environmental gradients helps in identifying diversity hotspot areas that can be prioritized for conservation. While the elevational distribution of several taxa has been studied, responses of the sub-groups within a taxon to elevation and its associated factors are not properly understood. Here we study species richness and butterfly density along an elevation gradient in Sikkim, Eastern Himalaya, India and explore the underlying causes of the patterns. We sampled butterflies using a fixed-width point count method in 16 elevational bands (150–200 m intervals), between a range of 300 and 3300 m a.s.l. We categorized butterflies into various sub-groups based on family, range size, biogeographic affinity, and host-plant specialization. We recorded 3603 individuals and 253 species of butterflies after the completion of 1860 point counts. Overall, species richness in the majority of the sub-groups (except for Riodinidae and Palearctic species) declines with elevation, as does the density of almost all the sub-groups. From a selection of environmental factors, annual actual evapotranspiration has the strongest effect on the species richness pattern of butterflies as well as on the density of the overall butterfly community, especially the Lycaenidae family. The richness and density of butterfly groups display varied responses to the richness and density of trees and shrubs. The conducive climatic conditions and diverse habitats in the lower valleys of the Eastern Himalaya support a high diversity of butterflies (with majority of small range species) and thus warrants conservation attention.