Active military training areas as refugia for disturbance-dependent endangered insects

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Oedipoda caerulescens (blue-winged grasshopper) and Cicindela hybrida (northern dune tiger beetle) are protected insects in Germany and elsewhere. They are known to occur on sparsely vegetated, sandy soil. Populations of the two insects were evaluated in relation to physical soil disturbance on four military training areas in Germany to determine if the military disturbance regime occurring there is conducive to the survival of the species and to provide insight into the nature of the disturbance that may be necessary as conservationists seek ways to maintain, establish or re-establish suitable habitat. Adults of O. caerulescens exhibited statistically significant preference for areas with between 60% and 100% surface disturbance, corresponding to 50–70% plant cover, depending on the location. C. hybrida adults preferentially occupied areas with >40% disturbance resulting in an average of 61% plant cover. The results confirm suggestions that both species are disturbance-dependent. Military training areas represent some of the last, large remnants of sparse, dry, sandy grasslands in Europe. The nature of land-based military training creates suitable habitat patches as well as habitat connectivity needed for the maintenance of metapopulations. As a result, military training areas represent some of the last remaining vestiges of a habitat and disturbance regime that are highly favored by O. caerulescens and C. hybrida and other species with similar habitat requirements.

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