1. Establishing temporal habitat patches, such as long-term set-aside, is potentially a valuable approach to support pollinator populations in intensively cultivated landscapes. The benefits of this approach are expected to differ between pollinator groups, because of fundamental differences in their ecology.
2. We studied the responses of two pollinator groups, bumblebees and diurnal Lepidoptera (butterflies and diurnal moths), to the vegetation succession in experimental set-aside during six consecutive years. The pollinators were monitored in 24 large treatment plots (50 × 50 m), sown with three different seed mixtures (competitive and two alternatives) and unmanaged or managed by mowing, and on 10 surrounding field margins.
3. The responses of the two pollinator groups to vegetation succession were distinctly different. Bumblebees showed a very strong positive response to the diverse seed mixture with abundant floral resources, and their abundance peaked in the first year. The species richness and abundance of Lepidoptera were increased gradually, suggesting differential colonization speeds of species and a gradual establishment of populations. Lepidopteran abundance reached the level of the field margins in 3 years, whereas the corresponding species richness level was not reached. The benefits of the alternative seed mixtures were less pronounced in Lepidoptera than in bumblebees. No effects of the mowing treatment on either species group were detected.
4. Within both pollinator groups, the response to vegetation succession was associated with species traits. In bumblebees, long-tongued species (indicating specialization) were increased during succession. In butterflies and diurnal moths, colonization success of species was strongly correlated with their wing span (indicating mobility). The most successful colonizers in butterflies were grass feeders and in diurnal moths the species feeding on leguminous plants at the larval stage.
5. Synthesis and applications. The ecological requirements of different pollinator groups should be taken into account when establishing set-aside. Supporting bumblebees is possible even on short-term set-aside, assuming nectar and pollen sources are made available. The occurrence of butterflies and diurnal moths is strongly driven by additional factors, such as the availability of larval host plants as well as adult mobility, which calls for set-aside management regimes to be in place for several years.