Browsing University of Alaska Fairbanks by Subject "Tundra ecology"
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Community composition and biogeography of beetles and spiders across an elevational gradient in Denali National Park, AlaskaAnthropogenic climate change is rapidly altering alpine ecosystems in Alaska. Trees and woody shrubs are expanding upslope and displacing alpine tundra. As alpine tundra habitats shrink and fragment, arthropods and other animals face an increased risk of extirpation due to smaller population sizes and reduced geneflow. Arthropods--insects, spiders, and their relatives--are the most speciose component of the alpine fauna and perform key ecosystem services, such as pollination and nutrient cycling, and are food for vertebrates. Many species have responded by shifting their distribution to higher elevations, but species respond to change idiosyncratically, which could alter species interactions and disrupt communities. I compared beetle and spider communities along an elevational gradient in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, an area with a complex biogeographic history and a poorly known arthropod fauna, in order to 1) examine differences in diversity, abundance, and community composition among forest, shrub, and alpine tundra habitats; 2) link the observed differences to abiotic factors relevant to climate change; and 3) test if shared habitat preferences lead to community-level patterns in geographic distribution. After three consecutive summers of sampling, I found that alpine tundra supports an unexpectedly diverse arthropod community with a high proportion of unique species and that vegetation cover and mean air temperature are strongly correlated with community composition. I therefore expect species losses among alpine tundra communities as shrubification continues. Community-level distribution patterns were not observed, but trends in the data point to a reduction of Holarctic distributions among forest-dwelling arthropods and an increased proportion of Beringian endemics among tundra species. This was the first systematic survey of Denali's terrestrial arthropods and added over 450 new park records.