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Assessing habitat quality for butterflies on intensively managed arable farmland

By R. F. Pywell, E. A. Warman, T. H. Sparks, N. J.. Greatorex-Davies, K Walker, W. R. Meek, C. Carvell, S. Petit and L. G. Firbank

Abstract

The conservation and management of biodiversity requires accurate, repeatable and cost-effective monitoring techniques. In this study, a simple and rapid methodology was employed to measure the quality of different habitats for butterfly species on 10 arable farms in lowland Britain. This habitat monitoring was seven times more rapid than the traditional species-based butterfly monitoring. Data on butterfly abundance were combined with the information gathered on habitat quality at five of the farms using stepwise regression. These models had a consistently high degree of explanatory power for the summary variables of total butterfly abundance and species richness, and the functional groupings of mobile and immobile species. There was good agreement between observed and predicted estimates of species richness and abundance when the models were validated on a further five independent sites. Models to predict the abundance of 11 common butterfly species were also produced. These varied considerably in their predictive power and validity between species. The results clearly demonstrated the beneficial effects of targeted habitat creation for butterflies which is promoted under the Agri-environment Schemes, especially the recently introduced pollen and nectar seed mixtures (WM2) available under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. The models confirmed the importance of shelter, floristically diverse field margins and the availability of nectar resources from legume species in explaining the abundance of immobile butterfly species in arable landscapes. These sources of nectar and the presence of larval host plants in the crucifer family were important factors in explaining the abundance of mobile species. The results are discussed in terms of the potential of this approach for: (i) assessing habitat quality for butterflies in intensively managed landscapes; (ii) enhancing the value of butterfly monitoring schemes in explaining changes in butterfly abundance at the site and national scale; and (iii) informing habitat management and restoration guidelines for butterfly conservation on arable farmland

Topics: Agriculture and Soil Science, Ecology and Environment
Year: 2004
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.biocon.2003.09.011
OAI identifier: oai:nora.nerc.ac.uk:7382
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