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Keywords:

  • agri-environment schemes;
  • Biodiversity Action Plan priority species;
  • conservation status;
  • farmland biodiversity;
  • farmland restoration ecology;
  • farmland rewilding;
  • feeding guild;
  • Lepidoptera;
  • moth mobility;
  • multiple spatial scales

Summary

  1. Improving the effectiveness of agri-environment schemes is essential for reversing declines in farmland biodiversity. Crucial to achieving this is identifying management options that are practical and beneficial to biodiversity, and understanding the influence of the surrounding landscape. We used data on abundance and species richness of farmland macro-moths, many of which are declining, and trait-based analyses on their feeding guild, mobility and conservation status, to explore local- and landscape-scale effects of two farmland features (extended-width field margins and hedgerow trees) and surrounding farmland intensification.
  2. Macro-moths were light trapped at 48 fixed sites on 16 farms, over 4 years, within a 1200-km2 area of lowland UK farmland. Sites belonged to one of four experimental groups that differed in their combinations of hedgerow tree presence and field margin width.
  3. Hedgerow trees and extended-width field margins locally increased species richness, but not abundance, of macro-moths, irrespective of each other's presence. Overall, species richness and abundance were not affected by agricultural intensification, as measured by the amount of arable land in the surrounding landscape.
  4. Sedentary moths showed double the species richness, but were half as abundant as mobile moths. Both groups responded positively to extended-width margin and hedgerow tree presence. The effect of hedgerow trees was particularly strong for shrub- and/or tree-feeding species.
  5. Analyses based on the conservation status of moths demonstrated that agricultural intensification lowered the species richness of nationally severely declining UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species and the abundance of both nationally moderately declining and priority species. These effects were most pronounced at the 0·8-km radius scale.
  6. Synthesis and applications. Our results suggest that the presence of extended-width field margins and hedgerow trees, possibly promoted by agri-environment schemes targeting their implementation at relatively small spatial scales (0·8 km), may help mitigate negative effects of agricultural intensification on macro-moths. A wide range of other taxa feed on macro-moths and may therefore indirectly benefit from these features. Nevertheless, taxa differ widely in their mobility and measures mitigating biodiversity loss may need to be targeted at multiple spatial scales to maximize their effectiveness for multiple taxa.