Land use change is a crucial driver behind species loss at the landscape scale. Hence, from a conservation perspective, species response to habitat degradation or improvement of habitat quality, is important to examine. By using indicator species it may be possible to monitor long-term survival of local populations associated with land use change. In this study we examined three potential indicator (response) species for species richness and composition in Scandinavian semi-natural grassland communities: Campanula rotundifolia, Primula veris and Rhinanthus minor. With field inventories and experiments we examined their response to present land use, habitat degradation and improvement of local habitat quality. At the time scale examined, C. rotundifolia was the only species responding to both habitat degradation and improvement of habitat quality. Neither R. minor nor P. veris responded positively to habitat improvements although both responded rapidly to direct negative changes in habitat quality. Even though C. rotundifolia responded quickly to habitat degradation, it did not disappear completely from the sites. Instead, the population structure changed in terms of decreased population size and flowering frequency. It also showed an ability to form remnant populations which may increase resilience of local habitats. Although P. veris and especially R. minor responded rapidly to negative environmental changes and may be useful as early indicators of land use change, it is desirable that indicators respond to both degradation and improvement of habitat quality. Thus, C. rotundifolia is a better response species for monitoring effects of land use change and conservation measures, provided that both local and regional population dynamics are monitored over a long time period.