Diverse effects of a seven-year experimental grassland fragmentation on major invertebrate groups

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Habitat fragmentation is a major driver of biodiversity loss, but observed effects vary and may depend on the group examined. Time since fragmentation may explain some differences between taxonomical groups, as some species and thus species composition respond with a delay to changes in their environment. Impacts of drivers of global change may thus be underestimated in short-term studies. In our study we experimentally fragmented nutrient-poor dry calcareous grasslands and studied the response of species richness, individual density and species composition of various groups of invertebrates (gastropods, ants, ground beetles, rove beetles, orthoptera, spiders, woodlice) in 12 small (1.5 m ∗ 1.5 m) and 12 large (4.5 m ∗ 4.5 m) fragments and their corresponding control plots after 7 years. We further examined responses to fragmentation in relation to body size and habitat preferences. Responses to fragmentation varied between taxonomical groups. While spider species richness and individual density were lower in fragments, the opposite was true for an orthopteran species and woodlice. Species composition and β-diversity differed between fragments and control plots for some groups. However, the interaction treat ment∗ plot size was rarely significant. Species with high occupancy rates in undisturbed control plots responded more negatively to the fragmentation, while species with large body size were relatively more abundant in fragments in some groups. No effect of the fragmentation was found forants, which may have the longest lag times because of long-lived colonies. However, relationships between abundance and the species' preferences for environmental factors affected by edge effects indicate that ant diversity too may be affected in the longer-term. Our results show the importance of considering different groups in conservation management in times of widespread fragmentation of landscapes. While species richness may respond slowly, changes in abundance related to habitat preferences or morphology may allow insights into likely long-term changes.




Braschler, B., & Baur, B. (2016). Diverse effects of a seven-year experimental grassland fragmentation on major invertebrate groups. PLoS ONE, 11(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0149567

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