When the Ice Has Gone: Colonisation of Equatorial Glacier Forelands by Ground Beetles (Coleoptera: Carabidae)

Neotrop Entomol. 2020 Apr;49(2):213-226. doi: 10.1007/s13744-019-00753-x. Epub 2020 Jan 8.


Ground beetles (Coleoptera: Carabidae) are among the early colonisers of recently deglaciated terrains. While patterns of carabid colonisation along forelands of retreating glaciers have been thoroughly investigated in temperate climates, information remains scarce in tropical mountains. This study aimed to describe for the first time the carabid beetle species assemblages along the chronosequence of two tropical Andean glaciers (Antisana and Carihuairazo, Ecuador). Shannon index, taxonomic distinctness and species assemblage composition did not reveal deterministic and directional patterns. Only the principal coordinate analysis performed on the Antisana dataset showed that some species had a clear preference for terrains deglaciated for more than 200 years. Our results showed that equatorial glacier forelands are colonised by pioneer species that persist from the recently deglaciated terrains (less than 25 years) to terrains deglaciated since more than 200 years. This pattern fits the 'addition and persistence model' of high-latitude glacier forelands, rather than the 'species replacement model' of the Alps. The pioneer species observed are high-altitude specialists adapted to constantly cold environments, but not specifically ice-related. In the current context of climate warming, pioneer and cold-adapted species living near the glaciers of equatorial mountains are therefore only threatened by the 'summit trap' risk, unlike in temperate regions, as they are not strictly linked to the glacier microclimate.

Keywords: Carabids, extinction risk, glacier retreat, high-altitude species, pioneer species, páramo.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Distribution*
  • Animals
  • Climate
  • Coleoptera / classification*
  • Ecuador
  • Ice Cover*