Journal of Insect Conservation

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 403–420 | Cite as

Lepidoptera communities across an agricultural gradient: how important are habitat area and habitat diversity in supporting high diversity?

  • M. S. Botham
  • E. C. Fernandez-Ploquin
  • T. Brereton
  • C. A. Harrower
  • D. B. Roy
  • M. S. Heard


Agricultural expansion and intensification have been linked with losses of biodiversity and disruption of key ecosystem services in farmed landscapes. A number of mitigation and adaptation strategies e.g. agri-environment schemes, have been implemented to counter these declines but their effectiveness has been questioned by conservationists as well as policy makers. A key concern is the lack of knowledge about how conservation efforts might best be directed; especially in terms of aligning the scale and type of implementation in different landscapes with the niche requirements and dynamics of different species and taxa. Here we focus on how the landscape context of farmed systems at different spatial scales determines the abundance of habitat generalist and specialist butterfly and moth species in southern England. We used butterfly data from 20 UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme sites, supplemented with moth data from a light trap survey of 11 sites, in southern England where the predominant habitat type sampled is lowland calcareous grassland. Our results show that larger areas of semi-natural grassland generally support larger numbers and a greater species richness of butterflies and moths, but that the composition of the Lepidoptera fauna changes with habitat size depending on the diversity of habitats in the landscape, particularly at the larger spatial scale. Larger areas of grassland in less diverse landscapes result in a proportionally greater number and diversity of habitat specialists, whilst habitat diversity is important in maintaining numbers and diversity of more generalist wider countryside species. Large areas of single habitat types may only be economically maintained at the expense of habitat diversity. Whilst these sites may be important in promoting abundance and diversity of selected specialist species, they may be prone to lower overall species richness. This has implications for improving the design and implementation of agri-environment schemes aimed at providing suitable habitat in order to promote the abundance and diversity of Lepidoptera and other taxa.


Butterflies Moths Species–area AES Habitat heterogeneity Calcareous grassland 



We would like to thank Dave Wilton for his help collecting data in the field, Stephen Freeman, Gary Powney and Tom August for advice on statistical analyses, John Redhead for GIS analyses and Sara Ball and two anonymous referees for helpful comments on the manuscript. Further thanks go to the following people for site access to collect moth data: Colin Williams, Gavin Bennett and Giles Alder (Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust), Granville Nicholls, Neil Harris, Joe Mayled, Joanne Hodgkins (National Trust), Des Sussex, Mick Venters and Bob Silverwood, (Natural England), John Shaw (Wycombe District Council), Anthony Allen, Chris Raper, David Kent, Jonny Edwards, Phil Townsend, and Sam Fielden. Butterfly data was supplied by the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS). The UKBMS is operated by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Butterfly Conservation and funded by a multi-agency consortium including Defra, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Forestry Commission, Natural England, the Natural Environment Research Council, Natural Resource Wales, and Scottish Natural Heritage. The UKBMS is indebted to all volunteers who contribute data to the scheme.


  1. Agassiz DJL, Beavan SD, Heckford RJ (2013) Checklist of the Lepidoptera of the British Isles. Field Studies Council, TelfordGoogle Scholar
  2. Alexander LV, Jones PD (2001) Updated precipitation series for the UK and discussion of recent extremes. Atmos Sci Lett 1:142–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andersson GKS, Birkhofer K, Rundlof M, Smith HG (2013) Landscape heterogeneity and farming practice alter the species composition and taxonomic breadth of pollinator communities. Basic Appl Ecol 14:540–546CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Anon (2010) Agriculture and rural development, agri-environment measures.
  5. Baldi A (2008) Habitat heterogeneity overrides the species–area relationship. J Biogeogr 35:675–681CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Batáry P, Báldi A, Kleijn D, Tscharntke T (2011) Landscape-moderated biodiversity effects of agri-environmental management: a meta-analysis. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 278:1894–1902CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Benton TG, Vickery JA, Wilson JD (2003) Farmland biodiversity: is habitat heterogeneity the key? Trends Ecol Evol 18:182–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bolker B (2014) Maximum likelihood estimation and analysis with the bbmle package Google Scholar
  9. Botham M, Ash D, Aspey N, Bourn N, Bulman C, Roy D, Swain J, Zannese A, Pywell R (2011) The effects of habitat fragmentation on niche requirements of the marsh fritillary, Euphydryas aurinia (Rottemburg, 1775) on calcareous grasslands in southern UK. J Insect Conserv 15:269–277CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bourn NAD, Warren MS (2000) Species action plan for small blue Cupido minimus. Butterfly Conservation, Wareham. Unpublished reportGoogle Scholar
  11. Brereton T, Roy D, Middlebrook I, Botham M, Warren M (2011) The development of butterfly indicators in the United Kingdom and assessments in 2010. J Insect Conserv 15:139–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Burnham KP, Anderson DR (2002) Model selection and multimodel inference: a practical information-theoretic approach. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  13. Carvell C, Osborne J, Bourke A, Freeman S, Pywell R, Heard M (2011) Bumble bee species’ responses to a targeted conservation measure depend on landscape context and habitat quality. Ecol Appl 21:1760–1771CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Clarke SA, Green DG, Bourn NA, Hoare DJ (2011) Woodland management for butterflies and moths: a best practice guide. Butterfly Conservation, WarehamGoogle Scholar
  15. Conrad K, Woiwod I, Parsons M, Fox R, Warren M (2004) Long-term population trends in widespread British moths. J Insect Conserv 8:119–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Conrad KF, Warren MS, Fox R, Parsons MS, Woiwod IP (2006) Rapid declines of common, widespread British moths provide evidence of an insect biodiversity crisis. Biol Conserv 132:279–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Crawley MJ (2012) The R book. Wiley, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Davies ZG, Wilson RJ, Coles S, Thomas CD (2006) Changing habitat associations of a thermally constrained species, the silver-spotted skipper butterfly, in response to climate warming. J Anim Ecol 75:247–256CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Dennis RL (2012) A resource-based habitat view for conservation: butterflies in the British landscape. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  20. Ekroos J, Olsson O, Rundlöf M, Wätzold F, Smith HG (2014) Optimizing agri-environment schemes for biodiversity, ecosystem services or both? Biol Conserv 172:65–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Emmet AM, Heath J (1989) The moths and butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland, vol 7, part I. Hesperiidae–Nymphalidae: the butterflies. Harley Books, ColchesterGoogle Scholar
  22. Fahrig L (2003) Effects of habitat fragmentation on biodiversity Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 34:487–515Google Scholar
  23. Fox R (2013) The decline of moths in Great Britain: a review of possible causes. Insect Conserv Divers 6:5–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fox R, Brereton TM, Asher J, Botham MS, Middlebrook I, Roy DB, Warren MS (2011) The state of the UK’s butterflies 2011. Butterfly Conservation, Wareham, 16 ppGoogle Scholar
  25. Fox R, Parsons MS, Chapman JW, Woiwod IP, Warren MS, Brooks DR (2013) The state of Britain’s larger moths 2013. Butterfly Conservation and Rothamsted Research, WarehamGoogle Scholar
  26. Green RE, Cornell SJ, Scharlemann JPW, Balmford A (2005) Farming and the fate of wild nature. Science 307:550–555CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Hanski I, Pakkala T, Kuussaari M, Lei G (1995) Metapopulation persistence of an endangered buttefly in a fragmented landscape. Oikos 72:21–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Heard MS, Carvell C, Carreck NL, Rothery P, OsborneBourke JL, Bourke AFG (2007) Landscape context not patch size determines bumble-bee density on flower mixtures sown for agri-environment schemes. Biol Lett 3:638–641CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Holland MM, Risser PG (1991) The role of landscape boundaries in the management and restoration of changing environments: introduction. In: Holland MM, Risser PG, Naiman RJ (eds) Ecotones: the role of landscape boundaries in the management and restoration of changing environments. Chapman and Hall, New York and LondonGoogle Scholar
  30. Kleijn D, Sutherland WJ (2003) How effective are European agri-environment schemes in conserving and promoting biodiversity? J Appl Ecol 40:947–969CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kleijn D, Baquero R, Clough Y, Diaz M, Esteban JD, Fernández F, Gabriel D, Herzog F, Holzschuh A, Jöhl R (2006) Mixed biodiversity benefits of agri-environment schemes in five European countries. Ecol Lett 9:243–254CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Kleijn D, Rundlöf M, Scheper J, Smith HG, Tscharntke T (2011) Does conservation on farmland contribute to halting the biodiversity decline? Trends Ecol Evol 26:474–481CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Krauss J, Steffan-Dewenter I, Tscharntke T (2003) How does landscape context contribute to effects of habitat fragmentation on diversity and population density of butterflies? J Biogeogr 30:889–900CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Krebs CJ (1999) Ecological methodology, vol 620. Benjamin/Cummings, Menlo ParkGoogle Scholar
  35. Lawton JH, Brotherton PNM, Brown VK, Elphick C, Fitter AH, Forshaw J, Haddow RW, Hilborne S, Leafe RN, Mace GM, Southgate MP, Sutherland WA, Tew TE, Varley J, Wynne GR (2010) Making space for nature: a review of England’s wildlife sites and ecological network. Report to DEFRA.
  36. MacArthur RH, Wilson EO (1967) The theory of island biogeography. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  37. Mazerolle M (2013) AICcmodavg: model selection and multimodel inference based on (Q) AIC(c). R package version 2.0-3.
  38. McGarigal K, Marks BJ (1995) Spatial pattern analysis program for quantifying landscape structure. Gen. tech. rep. PNW-GTR-351, US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research StationGoogle Scholar
  39. Merckx T, Feber RE, Riordan P, Townsend MC, Bourn NAD, Parsons MS, Macdonald DW (2009) Optimizing the biodiversity gain from agri-environment schemes. Agric Ecosyst Environ 130:177–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Merckx T, Feber RE, Parsons MS, Bourn NAD, Townsend MC, Riordan P, Macdonald DW (2010) Habitat preference and mobility of Polia bombycina: are non-tailored agri-environment schemes any good for a rare and localised species? J Insect Conserv 14:499–510CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Merckx T, Feber RE, Hoare DJ, Parsons MS, Kelly CJ, Bourn NA, Macdonald DW (2012) Conserving threatened Lepidoptera: towards an effective woodland management policy in landscapes under intense human land-use. Biol Conserv 149:32–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Morton D, Rowland C, Wood C, Meek L, Marston C, Smith G, Wadsworth R, Simpson IC (2011) Final report for LCM2007—the new UK land cover map. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, LancasterGoogle Scholar
  43. Ockinger E, Scweiger O, Crist TO, Debinski DM, Krauss J, Kuussaari M, Petersen JD, Poyry J, Settele J, Summerville KS, Bommarco R (2010) Life-history traits predict species responses to habitat area and isolation: a cross-continental synthesis. Ecol Lett 13:969–979PubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Ockinger E, Lindborg R, Sjodin NE, Bommarco R (2012) landscape matrix modifies richness of plants and insects in grassland fragments. Ecography 35:259–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. O’Connor RS, Hails RS, Thomas JA (2014) Accounting for habitat when considering climate: has the niche of the Adonis blue butterfly changed in the UK? Oecologia 174:1463–1472CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Oliver T, Roy DB, Hill JK, Brereton T, Thomas CD (2010) Heterogeneous landscapes promote population stability. Ecol Lett 13:473–484CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Oliver TH, Stefanescu C, Páramo F, Brereton T, Roy DB (2014) Latitudinal gradients in butterfly population variability are influenced by landscape heterogeneity. Ecography 37:863–871CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Parker DE, Legg TP, Folland CK (1992) A new daily Central England temperature series, 1772–1991. Int J Clim 12:317–342CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Phalan B, Onial M, Balmford A, Green RE (2011) Reconciling food production and biodiversity conservation: land sharing and land sparing compared. Science 333:1289–1291CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Pollard E, Yates TJ (1993) Monitoring butterflies for ecology and conservation. Chapman and Hall, LondonGoogle Scholar
  51. Pywell RF, Heard MS, Bradbury RB, Hinsley S, Nowakowski M, Walker KJ, Bullock JM (2012) Wildlife-friendly farming benefits rare birds, bees and plants. Biol Lett 8:772–775CrossRefPubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. R Development Core Team (2013) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, ViennaGoogle Scholar
  53. Robinson RA, Sutherland WJ (2002) Post-war changes in arable farming and biodiversity in Great Britain. J Appl Ecol 39:157–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Rosenzweig ML (1995) Species diversity in space and time. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rothery P, Roy DB (2001) Application of generalized additive models to butterfly transect count data. J Appl Stat 28:897–909CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Schmidt BC, Roland J (2006) Moth diversity in a fragmented habitat: importance of functional groups and landscape scale in the boreal forest. Ann Entomol Soc Am 99:1110–1120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Steffan-Dewenter I (2003) Importance of habitat area and landscape context for species richness of bees and wasps in fragmented orchard meadows. Conserv Biol 17:1036–1044CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Steffan-Dewenter I, Tscharntke T (2000) Butterfly community structure in fragmented habitats. Ecol Lett 3:449–456CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Sterling P, Parsons M, Lewington R (2012) Field guide to the micro-moths of Great Britain and Ireland. British Wildlife, GillinghamGoogle Scholar
  60. Summerville KS, Crist TO (2004) Contrasting effects of habitat quantity and quality on moth communities in fragmented landscapes. Ecography 27:3–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sutherland WJ (2002) Restoring a sustainable countryside. Trends Ecol Evol 17:148–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tews J, Brose U, Grimm V, Tielbörger K, Wichmann MC, Schwager M, Jeltsch F (2004) Animal species diversity driven by habitat heterogeneity/diversity: the importance of keystone structures. J Biogeogr 31:79–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Thomas JA, Lewington R (2010) The Butterflies of Briatin and Ireland. British Wildlife, GillinghamGoogle Scholar
  64. Thomas C, Thomas J, Warren M (1992) Distributions of occupied and vacant butterfly habitats in fragmented landscapes. Oecologia 92:563–567CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Tscharntke T, Steffan-Dewenter I, Kruess A, Thies C (2002) Contribution of small habitat fragments to conservation of insect communities of grassland–cropland landscapes. Ecol Appl 12:354–363Google Scholar
  66. Tscharntke T, Clough Y, Wanger TC, Jackson L, Perfecto I, Vandermeer J, Whitbread A (2012) Global food security, biodiversity conservation and the future of agricultural intensification. Biol Conserv 151:53–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Turner EC, Granroth HMV, Johnson HR, Lucas CBH, Thompson AM, Froy H, German RN, Holdgate R (2009) Habitat preference and dispersal of the Duke of Burgundy butterfly (Hamearis lucina) on an abandoned chalk quarry in Bedfordshire, UK. J Insect Conserv 13:475–486CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. van Swaay CAM (2002) The importance of calcareous grasslands for butterflies in Europe. Biol Conserv 104(3):315–318Google Scholar
  69. Waring P, Townsend M, Lewington R (2009) Field guide to the moths of Great Britain and Ireland. British Wildlife, GillinghamGoogle Scholar
  70. Warren M, Hill J, Thomas J, Asher J, Fox R, Huntley B, Roy D, Telfer M, Jeffcoate S, Harding P (2001) Rapid responses of British butterflies to opposing forces of climate and habitat change. Nature 414:65–69CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  71. Yela JL, Holyoak M (1997) Effetcs of moonlight and meteorological factors on light and bait trap catches of noctuid moths (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Environ Entomol 26:1283–1290CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. S. Botham
    • 1
  • E. C. Fernandez-Ploquin
    • 1
  • T. Brereton
    • 2
  • C. A. Harrower
    • 1
  • D. B. Roy
    • 1
  • M. S. Heard
    • 1
  1. 1.The Centre for Ecology and HydrologyWallingfordUK
  2. 2.Butterfly ConservationWarehamUK

Personalised recommendations