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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2019

Assessing agri-environmental schemes for semi-natural grasslands during a 5-year period: can we see positive effects for vascular plants and pollinators?

Berg, Ake; Cronvall, Erik; Eriksson, Asa; Glimskar, Anders; Hiron, Matthew; Knape, Jonas; Part, Tomas; Wissman, Jorgen; Zmihorski, Michal; Ockinger, Erik


An important function of agri-environmental schemes (AES) is to change management of pastures to better conserve biodiversity. However, the effects of most AES on biodiversity are poorly understood, especially when it comes to effects of AES management over time. The main aim of this study is to investigate if the species richness and abundance of grassland specialists of vascular plants and two important insect pollinator groups (bumblebees and butterflies) differ over time (5 years) in pastures with AES management (two value levels; general values and special values) and pastures without AES management. We also investigate if local vegetation characteristics and landscape composition relate to species richness in semi-natural grasslands. Using data from more than 400 sites we found that species richness of vascular plants (grassland specialists) was higher in pastures with AES management (for special and general values) compared to those without AES, which implies that these schemes do have value of the conservation of plant diversity. However, species richness and abundance of butterflies (grassland specialists) and bumblebees (all species) did not differ significantly among the three AES categories. We found no evidence that the type of AES management caused any changes in species richness of plants, butterflies or bumblebees during the 5 year period of our investigation. It appears that AES management that encourages uniform and minimum levels of grazing can have both positive and negative effects on biodiversity. For example, pollinators may benefit from a lower grazing intensity that could increase flower richness and heterogeneity in vegetation height. However, low grazing intensity may lead to increased cover of trees and shrubs, which can have negative effects for both insect pollinators and vascular plants. The effects of landscape composition were weak and only species richness of bumble bees were associated with landscape composition. Designing management regimes to maintain suitably heterogeneous vegetation layer, and continued long-term monitoring of biodiversity will be critical for safeguarding culturally and functionally important semi-natural grasslands.


AES; Management; Vegetation height; Flower richness; Tree cover; Shrub cover

Published in

Biodiversity and Conservation
2019, Volume: 28, number: 14, pages: 3989-4005