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Does microclimate affect grasshopper populations after cutting of hay in improved grassland?

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The microclimate of an improved hay meadow was studied using Tinytag dataloggers to record sward temperature after cutting. Temperatures in the sward were then compared to grasshopper abundances to see if mowing created an excessively hot microclimate unfavourable for sustained grasshopper activity in mid summer. The abundance of Chorthippus albomarginatus and Chorthippus parallelus was significantly reduced on the hay plots compared to the unmanaged control swards, which may have been due to high sward temperatures created by the absence of tall, shady vegetation in which grasshoppers may take refuge to avoid overheating. This study suggests that a combination of mortality caused by the physical process of mowing, and high sward temperatures created by removal of the standing crop by cutting may cause the low abundance of grasshoppers in improved grassland in eastern England. This research is particularly important when considering the orthopteran assemblages of Environmental Stewardship Scheme field margins where mowing for hay in July and August may seriously reduce grasshopper populations. If mowing of grassland has to occur during the grasshopper season, we suggest a later cut in September or a system of rotational mowing, leaving areas of uncut grassland as shelter.

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We wish to thank Writtle College for funding and supporting this project and to members of staff (especially James Stack and Martin Heywood) who helped with the management of the hay plots and collection of data. TG’s PhD supervisor, Dr. Julian Hill, was also extremely helpful in formulating experimental design and choice of statistics.

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Correspondence to Tim Gardiner.

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Gardiner, T., Hassall, M. Does microclimate affect grasshopper populations after cutting of hay in improved grassland?. J Insect Conserv 13, 97–102 (2009).

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