Responses of invertebrate trophic level, feeding guild and body size to the management of improved grassland field margins.

Published online
05 Aug 2009
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Woodcock, B. A. & Potts, S. G. & Tscheulin, T. & Pilgrim, E. & Ramsey, A. J. & Harrison-Cripps, J. & Brown, V. K. & Tallowin, J. R.
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Management of lowland mesotrophic grasslands in north-west Europe often makes use of inorganic fertilizers, high stocking densities and silage-based forage systems to maximize productivity. The impact of these practices has resulted in a simplification of the plant community combined with wide-scale declines in the species richness of grassland invertebrates. We aim to identify how field margin management can be used to promote invertebrate diversity across a suite of functionally diverse taxa (beetles, planthoppers, true bugs, butterflies, bumblebees and spiders). Using an information theoretic approach we identify the impacts of management (cattle grazing, cutting and inorganic fertilizer) and plant community composition (forb species richness, grass species richness and sward architecture) on invertebrate species richness and body size. As many of these management practices are common to grassland systems throughout the world, understanding invertebrate responses to them is important for the maintenance of biodiversity. Sward architecture was identified as the primary factor promoting increased species richness of both predatory and phytophagous trophic levels, as well as being positively correlated with mean body size. In all cases phytophagous invertebrate species richness was positively correlated with measures of plant species richness. The direct effects of management practices appear to be comparatively weak, suggesting that their impacts are indirect and mediated though the continuous measures of plant community structure, such as sward architecture or plant species richness. Synthesis and applications. By partitioning field margins from the remainder of the field, economically viable intensive grassland management can be combined with extensive management aimed at promoting native biodiversity. The absence of inorganic fertilizer, combined with a reduction in the intensity of both cutting and grazing regimes, promotes floral species richness and sward architectural complexity. By increasing sward architecture the total biomass of invertebrates also increased (by c. 60% across the range of sward architectural measures seen in this study), increasing food available for higher trophic levels, such as birds and mammals.

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