Landscape matrix modifies richness of plants and insects in grassland fragments

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There is an increasing awareness that not only area and isolation, but also the characteristics of the landscape surrounding habitat patches influence population persistence and species diversity in fragmented landscapes. In this study, we examine the effects of grassland fragmentation and land use in the landscape matrix (on a 2 km scale) on species richness of plants, butterflies, bees and hoverflies. These organisms were studied in replicated remnant patches of different sizes and isolation, embedded in landscapes dominated either by forest, arable land or a mix of these.

We found positive effects of patch area on species richness of the three insect taxa, but not of plants. Isolation had a negative effect only on hoverflies. Matrix type had contrasting effects on the studied taxa. Species richness of plants and butterflies was lowest in patches in landscapes dominated by arable land and highest in forest-dominated landscapes. For hoverflies, the negative effect of small patch area was strongest in forest-dominated landscapes, and there was a similar non-significant trend for bees. Our study shows the importance of considering matrix characteristics when studying responses to habitat fragmentation. Differences in matrix response among organism groups probably impinge on differing mechanisms. A forest matrix is likely to provide additional resources for butterflies but either constitute a barrier to dispersal or deprive resources as compared to an arable matrix for hoverflies. Enhanced plant diversity in grassland patches embedded in forested landscapes can be explained by habitat generalists more easily invading these patches, or by an unpaid extinction debt in these landscapes.

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