Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 26, Issue 14, pp 3385–3405 | Cite as

Diversity and trait composition of moths respond to land-use intensification in grasslands: generalists replace specialists

  • Jule Mangels
  • Konrad Fiedler
  • Florian D. Schneider
  • Nico Blüthgen
Original Paper


Grasslands belong to the ecologically most relevant habitats in cultural landscapes, but also provide high economic value when used as meadows or pastures. Land-use intensification in grasslands negatively affects plant diversity as well as arthropod communities that depend on plants as food source and habitat, with important consequences for the provision and resilience of ecosystem functioning. In this study, we sampled grassland moth species and investigated whether species composition, diversity and life-history trait characteristics of moth communities respond to the type and intensity of land use, comparing 26 sites in three different regions of Germany. Consistent across the three regions, we found that pastures grazed by cattle, horses or sheep harbour fundamentally different moth communities than meadows (mown and fertilized grasslands). Overall land-use intensity (LUI)—i.e., grazing intensity, amount of fertilizer applied and mowing frequency taken together—significantly reduced abundance and species richness as well as diversity. Some 27.6% of the species showed significant negative responses to LUI. A shift towards generalist life-history traits was observed: in frequently mown and fertilized meadows, rare specialist species were replaced by ubiquist species, i.e., highly reproductive habitat generalists. These results show the sensitivity of moths, an important group of arthropod herbivores and pollinators, to land use change in grassland ecosystems. The functional homogenization of life-history traits in plants along land-use gradients is mirrored by their herbivore consumers, leaving high-intensity grasslands less diverse and potentially less resilient to environmental disturbances.


Land-use intensification Life-history traits Biodiversity exploratories Functional homogenization Herbivorous insects 



We are grateful to Hartmut Roweck and Nikolay Savenkov for supporting the professional identification of moths and to Wadim Weber and Eva Gryglewicz to assist in the field. We thank Thomas Merckx and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and the managers of the three Exploratories, Swen Renner, Kerstin Wiesner, Katrin Lorenzen, Martin Gorke and all former managers for their work in maintaining the plot and project infrastructure; Simone Pfeiffer and Christiane Fischer for giving support through the central office, Michael Owonibi for managing the central data base, and Markus Fischer, Eduard Linsenmair, Dominik Hessenmöller, Jens Nieschulze, Daniel Prati, Ingo Schöning, François Buscot, Ernst-Detlef Schulze, Wolfgang W. Weisser and the late Elisabeth Kalko for their role in setting up the Biodiversity Exploratories project. The work has been funded by the DFG Priority Program 1374 “Infrastructure-Biodiversity-Exploratories”: (BL 960 2-1). Field work permits were issued by the responsible state environmental offices of Baden-Württemberg, Thüringen, and Brandenburg (according to § 72 BbgNatSchG).

Supplementary material

10531_2017_1411_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (638 kb)
S1—Additional information of land-use intensity and live-history traits, supplementary literature, analysis of co-variance tables for residual model (including figures) and main model (mangels_et_al_S1.pdf). Supplementary material 1 (PDF 638 kb)
10531_2017_1411_MOESM2_ESM.csv (25 kb)
S2—Data table of life-history traits and larval habitat of 460 moth species (mangels_et_al_S2.csv). [Data source: Konrad Fiedler, pers. obs. and 26 references listed in Supplementary Literature S1.1. Codes for life-history traits given in Table S1.2.]. Supplementary material 2 (CSV 24 kb)
10531_2017_1411_MOESM3_ESM.csv (22 kb)
S3—Data table of abundances of 447 moth species per region and month (mangels_et_al_S3.csv). Supplementary material 3 (CSV 22 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ecological Networks, Department of BiologyTechnische Universität DarmstadtDarmstadtGermany
  2. 2.Department of Botany & Biodiversity ResearchUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  3. 3.Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F)Frankfurt Am MainGermany

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