Land-use, environment, and their impact on butterfly populations in a mountainous pastoral landscape: species richness and family-level abundance
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Extensive grasslands are considered to be of high biodiversity value, but are under threat from intensification and abandonment. We studied butterfly species richness and abundance in 47 hay and grazing meadows in the Picos de Europa, northern Spain in 2004. Nine transects were walked around the perimeter of the meadows from the 1 June to 28 July with butterflies recorded to species or species-group. Land-use, abiotic, and sward variables were also recorded. Change in meadow extent was estimated by comparing a digital map of open meadows with a cadastral map with 1950s provenance. We found: A decrease in open area, mostly attributable to reduction in grazing meadows. 75 or more butterfly species with species richness principally, and positively, influenced by altitude and presence of scrub in the body of the meadow. Hay meadow management was a positive influence on richness of satyrids. When all butterflies were considered together, the only significant factor influencing abundance was Plantago lanceolata (−ve). For sub-groups of the butterfly community there was no consistent pattern, although P. lanceolata was identified as a (−ve) factor in relation to hesperiid, nymphalid, satyrid, and Viola-feeding fritillary groups. Several regression models included components that could be linked to abiotic influences (water, aspect, altitude) but many were indicative of abandonment or relaxation of management intensity (scrub, Pteridium aquilinum, Asphodelus albus), sward components, fragmentation (distance to nearest meadow, number of meadows within 100 m), and land use (hay management, summer grazing). The results are discussed in relation to changing socio-economics, including the potential impact of tourism, and the need for financial instruments to support extensive farming.