Management of calcareous grasslands for Nickerl's fritillary (Melitaea aurelia) has to consider habitat requirements of the immature stages, isolation, and patch area

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Abstract

We analysed the habitat preferences of adult stages and oviposition electivity of Melitaea aurelia in calcareous grasslands in the Diemel Valley (central Germany) to assess the key factors for successful management. Egg-laying and adult habitats of M. aurelia were more or less congruent. Oviposition electivity at the host plant (Plantago media) was best explained by a combination of host plant quantity and vegetation structure. Habitat quality, isolation and patch area explained 86% of the current patch occupancy of M. aurelia. With M. aurelia preferentially inhabiting transitional vegetation types, management requires a balance between abandonment and disturbance. Disturbances provide open soil that facilitates germination of the host plant Plantago media. On the other hand, immature and adult stages of M. aurelia perform best on calcareous grasslands with a high amount of host plants and low disturbance intensity. Traditional rough grazing regimes seem to be the most favourable tool for developing the necessary spatial and temporal heterogeneity in patches. The best results may be achieved by rotational grazing where only a subset of inhabited patches is grazed intensively each year. Our analysis of patch occupancy indicates that it would be desirable to restore patches in close proximity to occupied sites.

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