The Atlantic Forest region (wide sense) includes very complex tropical environments, increasingly threatened by extensive anthropogenic conversion (>90%). Ecologically specialized, short-generation insects (butterflies) are evaluated here as indicators for monitoring community richness, landscape integrity, and sustainable resource use in the region. The > 2100 butterfly species in the Atlantic Forest region have been censused in many sites over 35 years, giving comparable daily, weekly, monthly, and long-term site lists. The 21 most thoroughly studied sites include 218–914 species, of which half can be censused in a week or less. The butterfly communities are divided into six relatively distinct faunal regions, centered in the northeast, the central coastal tablelands, the southeast coastal plain, the mountains plus interior of the southeastern states, the central plateau, and the southern states. Species richness shows the highest values in coastal mountains from 15 to 23°S. Local butterfly communities show a high turnover, with 20 to 40 percent of the species, especially small Lycaenidae and Hesperiidae, recorded only as unstable populations or “tourists.” Easily sampled species in the family Nymphalidae, and especially its bait-attracted subfamilies, are best correlated with the entire butterfly fauna and can be used as surrogates for species diversity. In most butterfly groups, species richness is well predicted by landscape connectivity alone, or by composite indices of environmental heterogeneity, natural disturbance, and (negatively) anthropogenic disturbance. Principal components and redundancy analyses showed that the richness and proportions of different butterfly groups in the local fauna are variably explained by disturbance, seasonality, temperature, vegetation, soils, and landscape connectivity. Various groups thus can be used as rapid indicators of different types of change in the community, its environment, and the landscape. Threatened and rare species also can be used as indicators of the most unique Atlantic Forest communities (paleoenvironments), which need special attention.
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Vol. 32 • No. 4