• Alps;
  • cutting frequency;
  • fertilisation;
  • forest;
  • hay meadows;
  • herbivores;
  • insect conservation;
  • sward structure

Abstract.  1. Most ecological processes at the population and community level act on multiple spatial scales. We identified the influence of grassland management, vegetation traits and landscape on orthopteran and butterfly diversity in 44 meadows located in a forest-dominated region in the Italian Alps. The meadows were sampled in landscapes characterised by different proportions of woody vegetation and grasslands quantified at 11 spatial scales (95–3000 m).

2. We applied a multi-scale approach to investigate the scale-dependent effects of landscape. Then, we built generalised linear models (Poisson and log-link function) to test simultaneously vegetation traits and landscape variables on insect species richness.

3. High fertilisation and cutting frequency created tall, species-poor plant communities. This change reduced orthopteran diversity by providing an unsuitable sward structure, and butterfly diversity by creating disturbed plant communities with low species richness and abundance of flowering forbs and host plants.

4. The proportion of woody vegetation had a strong positive effect on the richness of both groups at the smallest spatial scale (95 m), indicating the importance of undisturbed vegetation in the surrounding of mown meadows. The effect tended to disappear with increasing spatial extent.

5. A multi-scale approach was necessary to identify the effects of landscape factors in this study system. Conservation measures should endorse the maintenance of species-rich, sparse and short plant communities by reducing organic fertilisation and cutting frequency. However, these schemes should also promote the presence of undisturbed woody vegetation in the immediate surrounding landscape or at least should prevent the complete mowing of large areas.