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Moth declines are most severe in broadleaf woodlands despite a net gain in habitat availability

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/09/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>Insect Conservation and Diversity
Issue number5
Number of pages14
Pages (from-to)496-509
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date28/04/22
<mark>Original language</mark>English


While agricultural intensification and habitat loss are cited as key drivers of moth decline, these alone cannot explain declines observed in UK woodlands - a habitat that has expanded in area since 1968.We quantified how moth communities changed across habitats and regions and determined how species traits interacted with habitat in predicting moth abundance change. We hypothesised that, in woodlands, species more vulnerable to shading and browsing by deer (species specialising on forbs, shrubs and shade-intolerant plants) had declined more severely than other species, and that moth decline in woodlands was more severe at sites more susceptible to deer damage.We modelled abundance, biomass, species richness and diversity from 1968 to 2016 and explored how these interacted with habitat and region. We also modelled the interaction between habitat and two moth species traits: larval feeding guild and shade-tolerance of hostplant.Moth declines were consistently highest in broadleaf woodland. Abundance, biomass, species richness and diversity declined significantly by -51%, -52%, -14% and -15% in woodlands, respectively, compared to national trends of -34%, -39%, -1% (non-significant) and +10%. Declines were no greater in woodlands more susceptible to deer browsing damage. Traits based analysis found no evidence that shading and intensive browsing by deer explained moth declines in woodland.Moth decline was more severe in broadleaf woodlands than in intensively managed farmlands. We found no evidence that deer browsing or increased shading has driven these trends: the primary cause of the decline of moths in woodlands remains unclear.