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Abandonment of cultural landscapes: butterfly communities track the advance of forest over grasslands

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

Published
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>28/02/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal of Insect Conservation
Issue number1
Volume26
Number of pages12
Pages (from-to)85-96
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date14/12/21
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

Abstract: Rural landscapes in Europe have suffered considerable land-use change in the last 50 years, with agricultural intensification in western regions and land abandonment in eastern and southern regions. The negative impacts of agricultural intensification on butterflies and other insects in western Europe have been well studied. However, less is known about the impacts of abandonment on mountain and humid areas of eastern and southern Europe, where landscapes have remained more natural. We sampled butterfly communities in the Picos de Europa National Park (Spain), a region which is undergoing a process of rural abandonment. 19 hay meadows with different periods of abandonment were studied (long-term 18 years or mid-term abandoned, 3–7 years) and compared to meadows continuously managed in a traditional way. We examined how local meadow characteristics and landscape variables affected butterfly community response to abandonment. Butterfly communities were affected by abandonment, with an overall increase in the density of individuals in the long term. Community composition appears to undergo major change over time, with a species turnover of around 50% in the first few years of abandonment, rising to around 70% after 18 years of abandonment. There was a tendency for species with higher preference for closed habitats to increase their densities as time since abandonment proceeded. Landscape variables had a major impact on butterfly communities, stronger than the effect of meadow management. Community preference for closed habitats was associated with higher forest cover in the surroundings of the meadows, but heterogeneous landscapes (in their composition or configuration) mitigated this effect. Implications for insect conservation: Our findings suggest that we should ensure that communities have time to react to the diverse stressors imposed by global change. Facilitating survival to all kinds of functional and taxonomic groups implies promoting landscape heterogeneity and connectivity.