Home Environment Rewilding European Landscapes
Wrapping It Up and the Way Forward
Semi-natural meadows and other open biotopes are important contributors to agroecosystem biodiversity on marginal land (Knop et al. 2006). Whilst the negative effects of grassland intensification on biodiversity are relatively well understood (Marini et al. 2008), the impact of grassland abandonment—common to European mountainous areas—is much less understood, and hence controversial. In our view, the alleged negative effects result from two biases: species composition studies are often performed at relatively small scales, and narrowly focus on open-biotope species alone. These biases ignore that ecosystem dynamics occur across spatial scales, and that ecosystems consist of other functional groups too.
Nevertheless, evidence exists that cessation of management, and the resulting transitional vegetation types, can be important—even at the field-scale—for several taxonomic groups (Lepidoptera: Balmer and Erhardt 2000; Baur et al. 2006; Öckinger et al. 2006; Skórka et al. 2007—Apoidea: Kruess and Tscharntke 2002—Orthoptera: Marini et al. 2009a). Similarly, a recent review paper convincingly shows that reduced grazing generally positively affects arthropod diversity (van Klink et al. 2014).
We believe that studies on biodiversity effects should include landscape and/ or regional scales. Ecological processes are not limited to the field-scale, as many organisms move at larger spatial scales, and respond differently to the surrounding landscape according to their size, mobility and functional traits (Steffan-Dewenter et al. 2002; Tscharntke et al. 2005; Merckx et al. 2009, 2010b; Slade et al. 2013; Queiroz et al. submitted). At these larger scales we expect positive effects from land abandonment. Indeed, reduced effects of habitat fragmentation, and high landscape heterogeneity, may lead to better functioning, more diverse, and hence more resilient ecosystems (Loreau and de Mazancourt 2013). For example, Marini et al. (2008, 2009b) show that a high proportion of woody vegetation at a landscape-scale positively affects Orthopteran species richness, whereas a high proportion of grasslands did so negatively. Other examples are birds of prey which obtain resources from both farmand woodland. Their densities tend to increase with forest cover; Booted eagle ( Aquila pennata) densities, for instance, peak at ca. 80 % forest cover (Sánchez-Zapata and Calvo 1999). Conservation of raptors, and many other mobile taxa, thus requires a regional approach towards the right landscape mosaics of forests and open biotopes (Vickery and Arlettaz 2012). A marked increase in native forest cover within Europe may locally also combat the increased frequency and intensity of fires due to climate change (Proença et al. 2010), which are considered threats to European butterfly diversity (van Swaay et al. 2010). Nevertheless, as the highest diversity of (threatened) butterflies is found in mountainous areas in Southern Europe, where numerous restricted-range species are encountered (van Swaay et al. 2010), and where a high degree of farmland abandonment is likely (see Chap. 1, Fig. 1.4), rewilding projects in such areas will need to make sure they retain all key habitat resources of such high-priority species at sufficient levels within (managed) open habitats (see Chap. 8).
Here, we reported on research within the Peneda mountain range in which we looked at the response of macro-moth species composition to farmland abandonment across multiple spatial scales. Based on our findings and on general ecological insights, we strongly recommend that a possible rewilding approach would not be equalled to a hands-off approach, but rather to a conservation management approach that monitors, and when necessary intervenes to provide habitat heterogeneity at multiple spatial scales, in order to cater for the whole gradient of sedentary to mobile species. Given that sufficient levels of habitat heterogeneity are maintained, Lepidoptera are one of probably many taxa that are likely to benefit from rewilding exercises on European marginal farmland. An important point to take on board for nocturnal Lepidoptera, and other nocturnal biodiversity, is the issue of light pollution, which may cause adverse effects on larval development, fitness and population dynamics (van Geffen et al. 2014), and may hence result in negative effects cascading through whole ecosystems (van Langevelde et al. 2011; Fox et al. 2013). Rewilding exercises should thus include measures to actively mitigate light pollution sources (see Chap. 2). The likely improved species composition as a result will not only help achieve European species conservation targets (i.e. halting and reversing declines in biodiversity), but stronger populations of moths, butterflies and other invertebrates will also result in increased resilience of food-webs and ecosystem functioning (Loreau and de Mazancourt 2013).
Since there is an urgent need to determine the effects of farmland abandonment and landscape context on communities over a wide range of spatial scales (Cozzi et al. 2008), we believe that our study on macro-moths in the Peneda range provides useful and timely scientific evidence on the benefits, requirements and limitations of the rewilding approach for marginal land, such as mountainous areas and High Nature Value farmland within Europe. We hope that the approach of Controlled Rewilding here proposed, may help design an effective conservation policy regarding the European farmland abandonment process. We here call for more research into how optimal configurations of rewilded land on abandoned farmland would look like. We also call to develop regional goals for biodiversity on land characterised by a high degree of farmland abandonment. Although it is clear that a universal approach to provide habitat heterogeneity at multiple spatial scales is the key to deliver and sustain the required biodiversity, we may need different types of heterogeneity in different places and regions.
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