Indicators for biodiversity in agricultural landscapes: a pan-European study.
In many European agricultural landscapes, species richness is declining considerably. Studies performed at a very large spatial scale are helpful in understanding the reasons for this decline and as a basis for guiding policy. In a unique, large-scale study of 25 agricultural landscapes in seven European countries, we investigated relationships between species richness in several taxa, and the links between biodiversity and landscape structure and management. We estimated the total species richness of vascular plants, birds and five arthropod groups in each 16-km2 landscape, and recorded various measures of both landscape structure and intensity of agricultural land use. We studied correlations between taxonomic groups and the effects of landscape and land-use parameters on the number of species in different taxonomic groups. Our statistical approach also accounted for regional variation in species richness unrelated to landscape or land-use factors. The results reveal strong geographical trends in species richness in all taxonomic groups. No single species group emerged as a good predictor of all other species groups. Species richness of all groups increased with the area of semi-natural habitats in the landscape. Species richness of birds and vascular plants was negatively associated with fertilizer use. Synthesis and applications. We conclude that indicator taxa are unlikely to provide an effective means of predicting biodiversity at a large spatial scale, especially where there is large biogeographical variation in species richness. However, a small list of landscape and land-use parameters can be used in agricultural landscapes to infer large-scale patterns of species richness. Our results suggest that to halt the loss of biodiversity in these landscapes, it is important to preserve and, if possible, increase the area of semi-natural habitat.