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Article

Aposematic Coloration of Moths Decreases Strongly along an Elevational Gradient in the Andes

1
Department of Botany & Biodiversity Research, University of Vienna, Rennweg 14, 1030 Vienna, Austria
2
Institut für Zoologie und Evolutionsforschung mit Phyletischem Museum, Friedrich-Schiller Universität Jena, 07743 Jena, Germany
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Martin Konvicǩa
Insects 2021, 12(10), 903; https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12100903
Received: 17 September 2021 / Revised: 24 September 2021 / Accepted: 25 September 2021 / Published: 3 October 2021
(This article belongs to the Section Insect Ecology, Diversity and Conservation)
Certain moths defend themselves with toxic substances, and they show this to predators with bright and contrasting coloration. At high elevations, fewer birds, bats and other predators are present that feed on these insects. We therefore expected a decreasing proportion of colorful tiger and lichen moths with increasing elevation. Our study was carried out in forests between 1040 and 2670 m in the Ecuadorian Andes. We scored all 353 observed species according to their warning coloration, and whether they mimic bees and wasps or potentially poisonous beetles. We also measured forewing length of all species. From these data community-weighted means were calculated and related to the elevation of their collection sites. As predicted, the communitywide incidence of all three defensive traits decreased substantially from tall premontane forest to open upper montane forest. In parallel, moth size increased with elevation. Moreover, the systematic composition of tiger and lichen moth assemblages changed substantially. These findings support the idea that different selection regimes favor warning coloration at lower sites with higher predation pressure, while cryptic appearance is more advantageous at higher elevations.
On tropical mountains, predation pressure decreases with elevation. Accordingly, one expects an elevational decay in the prevalence of costly defensive traits such as aposematic coloration. Using light-trap catches of Arctiinae moths (353 species, 4466 individuals), assembled along a forested gradient in the megadiverse tropical Andes of southern Ecuador, we show that the incidence of aposematic coloration decreases strongly between 1040 and 2670 m asl. While over 60% of Arctiinae moths were warningly colored at lowest sites, this fraction decreased to less than 20% in montane forest, yet increased slightly again at the highest sites in the very open Purdiaea nutans forest. In parallel, the incidence of hymenopteran mimics and of species that mimic chemically defended beetles decreased with elevation. Hymenopteran mimics accounted for less than 5% of Arctiinae moths at sites above 2100 m, and beetle mimics were essentially lacking at high elevations. These patterns coincide with a change in gross taxonomic composition of Arctiinae ensembles and with an increase in average body size towards higher elevations. Representatives of Euchromiina and Ctenuchina became scarce with altitude, whereas the prevalence of Lithosiinae increased. Our findings suggest that the variable selective pressures along the elevational gradient favor warning coloration primarily at lower sites, whereas cryptic appearance of adult moths dominates in the tropical upper montane forest. View Full-Text
Keywords: defensive coloration; elevational gradient; tropical Andes; tiger moths; predation risk defensive coloration; elevational gradient; tropical Andes; tiger moths; predation risk
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MDPI and ACS Style

Fiedler, K.; Brehm, G. Aposematic Coloration of Moths Decreases Strongly along an Elevational Gradient in the Andes. Insects 2021, 12, 903. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12100903

AMA Style

Fiedler K, Brehm G. Aposematic Coloration of Moths Decreases Strongly along an Elevational Gradient in the Andes. Insects. 2021; 12(10):903. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12100903

Chicago/Turabian Style

Fiedler, Konrad, and Gunnar Brehm. 2021. "Aposematic Coloration of Moths Decreases Strongly along an Elevational Gradient in the Andes" Insects 12, no. 10: 903. https://doi.org/10.3390/insects12100903

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