Hierarchical top-down control of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes across organisational levels and spatial scales

Biodiversity is one of the fundamental manifestations of life. Nevertheless, is has been increasingly threatened by anthropogenic activities. Land-use change is predicted to have the largest global impact on biodiversity by the year 2100. In European countries, land use is dominated by agriculture w...

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Bibliographic Details
Main Author: Schweiger, Oliver
Contributors: Brandl, Roland (Prof.) (Thesis advisor)
Format: Dissertation
Language:English
Published: Philipps-Universität Marburg 2005
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Summary:Biodiversity is one of the fundamental manifestations of life. Nevertheless, is has been increasingly threatened by anthropogenic activities. Land-use change is predicted to have the largest global impact on biodiversity by the year 2100. In European countries, land use is dominated by agriculture which shapes more than half of the land area. In the 20th century, industrialisation supported major changes in agricultural land use, which led to significant declines in biodiversity. These changes were driven by both the intensification of agricultural land management and a loss of area, connectivity and diversity of semi-natural habitats. Since multiple aspects of agrarian land-use change will affect not only species richness but all levels of biodiversity such as genes, individuals, populations, communities, landscapes and ecosystems in specific ways and act across different spatial scales, a detailed knowledge about the relative effects on particular dimensions of biodiversity is important for ecological theory and biodiversity research. The principal objective of this thesis is to explore the relative effects of scale and land-use changes on major organisational levels of biodiversity in European agricultural landscapes. Therefore, this thesis deals with three different aspects of biodiversity realised in the same landscapes: genetics, populations and communities. The first part deals with the spatial genetic structure of the land snail Cepaea nemoralis (L.) in a medium fragmented landscape at the local and landscape scale. The second part focuses on habitat modelling relating occurrence patterns in populations of the butterfly Pararge aegeria (L.) to environmental variables. The third part analyses two aspects of communities. Firstly, we related the similarities among local plant and arthropod communities to land-use variables at the landscape scale while controlling for local effects. We used similarities to consider species identities and abundances. Secondly, the relative effects of land-use factors at three spatial scales (region, landscape, local) on compositional and ecological aspects of local arthropod communities were investigated. Our studies emphasise that environmental change will affect biodiversity significantly at all major organisational levels. Population genetics, population structure, species richness, community similarity, community composition and ecological community characteristics, all responded to environmental factors but in a specific way. In order to address the fundamental question of which factors determine certain biodiversity levels, we disentangled the relative effects of single environmental factors that act on different spatial scales. All three analysed levels of biodiversity (genetics, populations, communities) revealed a clear trend of increasing importance of scale from the local level to the landscape and finally to the region. The genetic diversity of the land snail Cepaea nemoralis was not affected by local features such as patch size or habitat diversity, whereas the observed metapopulation structure indicated a pronounced effect of landscape features. The population response of the butterfly Pararge aegeria was a bit more complex. Under beneficial environmental conditions the impact of local and landscape-scale factors was similar but low. However, adverse conditions revealed an increasing effect of scale from local factors (suitable habitat) to landscape features (number of woody patches) and finally to regional factors (climate). Likewise, the analysis of community turnover, species composition and ecological groups supported these findings and were remarkably similar even between arthropod groups that differ markedly in their ecology. The analysis of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes across organisational levels and spatial scales supported a top-down hierarchical theory of biodiversity. It predicts that local communities are assembled from a regional species pool, which is modulated by large-scale factors such as climate or evolutionary and biogeographical history, through a series of hierarchical filters at the landscape scale and, to a lower extent, at the local scale according to both dispersal- and niche-assembly processes. Dispersal is suggested to be one of the main drivers of biodiversity at the landscape scale. Consequently, land-use change that affects the connectivity of habitats will significantly affect biodiversity by diminishing or even disrupting genetic, population and community processes. However, real species are not entirely neutral as the effects of niche-assembly related processes showed. This calls for a further unification of biodiversity theories that should consider species identities and their ecological role as well as their dispersal ability and spatial patterns across a variety of spatial and temporal scales if one wants to understand the multifaceted manifestations of live.
DOI:https://doi.org/10.17192/z2005.0125