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Spiders in the context of agricultural land abandonment in Greek Mountains: species responses, community structure and the need to preserve traditional agricultural landscapes

Abstract

Agricultural land abandonment is a major conservation issue when it comes to remote Mediterranean mountainous ecosystems. Although its impact on taxa such as birds or butterflies is well known, knowledge remains poor for less studied invertebrate taxa such as spiders. We sampled ground spiders (Gnaphosidae, Liocranidae, Miturgidae and Corrinidae) in 20 randomly selected sites (1 km × 1 km; 15 pitfall traps) that well depicted a land abandonment gradient, in terms of four forest encroachment classes. Our results showed a negative effect of land abandonment on ground spider species richness and diversity (Simpson index), pinpointing that forested habitats with more than 75 % woody vegetation cover are relatively poor. We also provide evidence for the beneficial role of low intensity grazing (0.4–4 livestock units/km2) for ground spider abundance. Community analysis revealed four distinct clusters of co-occurring species, while Generalized Linear Models at cluster and species level showed the definitive role of forest encroachment, and secondarily of other environmental factors such as humidity, elevation and longitude, in regulating species distribution patterns. Conservation measures for ground spider diversity maintenance should focus on promoting traditional agricultural practices, including small-scale cultivation and mild livestock grazing in order to preserve open and semi-open rural mosaics.

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Acknowledgments

The present research was undertaken in the frame of “Impact of AGRicultural Abandonment on Landscape structure” (AGRALE) project, funded by South East European Era-Net PLUS (SEE-ERA.NET PLUS) scheme (Greek Ministry of Development and the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development) (S. Zakkak, V. Kati) and cofunded by the European Union (European Social Fund) and National Resources under the Operational Programme “Education and Lifelong Learning” Action 81324 - SPIDOnetGR, ARISTEIA II Programme, NSRF 2007-2013 (M. Chatzaki). We would like to thank Lefteris Kakalis, Stefan Schindler, Andreja Radovic, Stoyan Nikolov, Kiril Vasilev and Hristo Pedashenko, for the fruitful discussions on site selection. We would also like to thank the Natural History Museum of Crete for providing us with the equipment for sorting and storing the samples and specially Apostolos Trichas for his advice on pitfall trapping and Zoi Liandraki for helping with the sorting. Finally, we would like to thank KTIMATOLOGIO S.A. for providing us with aerial imagery of the study area and Kostas Apostolopoulos for his valuable help during field work.

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Correspondence to Sylvia Zakkak.

Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 3, 4.

Table 3 Number of spider individuals trapped, in Pindos mountains, in 2011, per species (for the Gnaphosidae and allied families) transformed as the number of individuals trapped per 1,000 trap-days
Table 4 Environmental variables and ground dwelling spider diversity and abundance per sampling site in Pindos mountains, in 2011

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Zakkak, S., Chatzaki, M., Karamalis, N. et al. Spiders in the context of agricultural land abandonment in Greek Mountains: species responses, community structure and the need to preserve traditional agricultural landscapes. J Insect Conserv 18, 599–611 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10841-014-9663-3

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Keywords

  • Land abandonment
  • Grazing
  • Araneae
  • Gnaphosidae
  • Rural mosaics