Saproxylic beetles in tropical and temperate forests - A standardized comparison of vertical stratification patterns

Matthias Weiss, Raphael K. Didham, Jiri Prochazka, Jiri Schlaghamersky, Yves Basset, Frode Odegaard, Alexey Tichechkin, Juergen Schmidl, Andreas Floren, Gianfranco Curletti, Henri-Pierre Aberlenc, Johannes Bail, Hector Barrios, Maurice Leponce, Enrique Medianero, Laura L. Fagan, Bruno Corbara, Lukas Cizek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Forests are complex three-dimensional ecosystems, but little is known about the influence of vertical stratification of forest structure on biodiversity and species turnover. Saproxylic beetles make a substantial contribution to forest biodiversity and ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling. Management measures aimed at supporting saproxylic biodiversity are becoming an integral part of sustainable forest management practices. Yet, monitoring is carried out under the assumption that saproxylic activity at ground level will be a realistic reflection of saproxylic biodiversity in the forest as a whole.

To investigate the validity of this assumption we compare vertical stratification and composition of saproxylic beetle assemblages between three forest types of varying altitude and latitude, including a tropical lowland forest in Panama, a temperate lowland forest and a temperate montane forest, both in the eastern Czech Republic. Beetles were sampled following a standardized sampling protocol using flight intercept traps arranged in vertical transects.

Overall, the tropical forest was estimated to harbour two to three times more saproxylic beetle species than the temperate lowland and the montane forest, respectively. However, point richness estimates within vertical strata were remarkably similar between biomes. Species richness was similar in the understorey of all three forests. It peaked in the canopy of the tropical forest but in the understorey of temperate forests. So, while the beetle assemblages were clearly vertically stratified in all three forest types, stratification patterns varied markedly between tropical and temperate forests. This trend is driven primarily by the high richness of saproxylic beetles in the tropical forest canopy. However these richness differences belie the strong similarities in stratification of feeding guild composition observed all three forest types. This would tend to suggest that similar trophic structuring forces might operate across very different forest biomes of the world.

Similarities in feeding guild composition suggest that management measures aiming at conserving biodiversity of saproxylic beetles are likely to be effective across different forest types. The differences in vertical stratification, however, suggest that understorey monitoring alone will be insufficient to understand management effects on saproxylic biodiversity. In the tropics, in particular, more emphasis will need to be placed on managing the diverse, three-dimensional structure of forest canopies as habitat for saproxylic beetles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-58
Number of pages9
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2019


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