Limiting factors in the restoration of UK grassland beetle assemblages
Woodcock, B. A., Bullock, J. M., Mortimer, S. R. and Pywell, R. F. (2012) Limiting factors in the restoration of UK grassland beetle assemblages. Biological Conservation, 146 (1). pp. 136-143. ISSN 0006-3207
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2011.11.033
Grasslands restoration is a key management tool contributing to the long-term maintenance of insect populations, providing functional connectivity and mitigating against extinction debt across landscapes. As knowledge of grassland insect communities is limited, the lag between the initiation of restoration and the ability of these new habitats to contribute to such processes is unclear. Using ten data sets, ranging from 3 to 14 years, we investigate the lag between restoration and the establishment of phytophagous beetle assemblages typical of species rich grasslands. We used traits and ecological characteristics to determine factors limiting beetle colonisation, and also considered how food-web structure changed during restoration. For sites where seed addition of host-plants occurred the success in replicating beetle assemblages increased over time following a negative exponential function. Extrapolation beyond the existing data set tentatively suggested that success would plateau after 20 years, representing a c. 60% increase in assemblage similarity to target grasslands. In the absence of seed addition, similarity to the target grasslands showed no increase over time. Where seed addition was used the connectance of plant-herbivore food webs decreased over time, approaching values typical of species rich grasslands after c. 7 years. This trend was, however, dependent on the inclusion of a single site containing data in excess of 6 years of restoration management. Beetles not capable of flight, those showing high degrees of host-plant specialisation and species feeding on nationally rare host plants take between 1 and 3 years longer to colonise. Successful grassland restoration is underpinned by the establishment of host-plants, although individual species traits compound the effects of poor host-plant establishment to slow colonisation. The use of pro-active grassland restoration to mitigate against future environmental change should account for lag periods in excess of 10 years if the value of these habitats is to be fully realised.