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Multi‐taxa approach shows consistent shifts in arthropod functional traits along grassland land‐use intensity gradient

Simons, Nadja K., Weisser, Wolfgang W., Gossner, Martin M.
Ecology 2016 v.97 no.3 pp. 754-764
Araneae, Heteroptera, arthropods, biodiversity, body size, grasslands, grazing intensity, ground vegetation, herbivores, insects, land use, legs, morphometry, mowing, wings, Germany
Intensification of land use reduces biodiversity but may also shift the trait composition of communities. Understanding how land use affects single traits and community trait composition, helps to understand why some species are more affected by land use than others. Trait‐based analyses are common for plants, but rare for arthropods. We collected literature‐based traits for nearly 1000 insect and spider species to test how land‐use intensity (including mowing, fertilization, and grazing) across 124 grasslands in three regions of Germany affects community‐weighted mean traits across taxa and in single taxa. We additionally measured morphometric traits for more than 150 Heteroptera species and tested whether the weighted mean morphometric traits change with increasing land‐use intensity. Community average body size decreased and community average dispersal ability increased from low to high land‐use intensity. Furthermore, the relative abundance of herbivores and of specialists among herbivores decreased and the relative abundance of species using the herb layer increased with increasing land‐use intensity. Community‐weighted means of the morphometric traits in Heteroptera also changed from low to high land‐use intensity toward longer and thinner shapes as well as longer appendices (legs, wings, and antenna). While changes in traits with increasing mowing and fertilization intensity were consistent with the combined land‐use intensity, community average traits did often not change or with opposite direction under increasing grazing intensity. We conclude that high land‐use intensity acts as an environmental filter selecting for on average smaller, more mobile, and less specialized species across taxa. Although trait collection across multiple arthropod taxa is laborious and needs clear trait definitions, it is essential for understanding the functional consequences of biodiversity loss due to land‐use intensification.