, Volume 16, Issue 12, pp 3423-3436
Date: 12 May 2006

Tracking the effects of one century of habitat loss and fragmentation on calcareous grassland butterfly communities

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Habitat loss and fragmentation are known to reduce patch sizes and increase their isolation, consequently leading to modifications in species richness and community structure. Calcareous grasslands are among the richest ecosystems in Europe for insect species. About 10% (1,150 ha) of the total area of a calcareous ridge region (Calestienne, Belgium) and its butterfly community was analysed over a timeframe of about 100 years. Since 1905 to present day (2005), the Calestienne region has undergone both calcareous grassland loss and fragmentation: not only did calcareous grassland size decrease and isolation increase, but also, the number of calcareous grassland patches within the landscape increased until 1965, and subsequently decreased, clearly reflecting the effects of fragmentation. These processes have had a profound effect on the butterfly community: extinction and rarefaction affected significantly more often specialist species, which means that generalist species are more and more overrepresented. This ecological drift, i.e. the replacement of specialists by generalists in species assemblages is likely to be a general effect of habitat loss and fragmentation on natural communities.