Data from: Agri-environment conservation set-asides have co-benefits for connectivity



Widespread declines in farmland biodiversity have led to state-funded schemes which take land out of production to create (semi-)natural habitats for biodiversity (e.g. EU agri-environment schemes; US Conservation Reserve Program). Common features of such schemes are grassland strips at the edges of agricultural fields, and we examine potential co-benefits of these biodiversity set-asides for contributing to grassland connectivity. Although set-aside strips had negligible impact on landscape-scale species persistence (using metapopulation models parameterized for flying insects run on 267 landscapes of ~30 000 ha across England), they nonetheless improved connectivity in 74% (198/267) of landscapes (comparing landscapes with and without set-asides), as shown by range expansion rates increasing by up to 100%. Benefits of set-aside strips varied according to species type (high/low dispersal, high/low population density), but had little benefit for species with low dispersal and small population sizes, which enerally failed to expand. High dispersal/high density species were already successful expanders regardless of set-asides (> 75% of simulations were successful without set-sides) although expansion rates were still improved when set-asides were added. Whilst alternative strategies for placement of set-aside strips (more/less aggregated), revealed no consensus ‘better’ strategy across species types, set-aside benefits were generally greatest in landscapes with intermediate availability of semi-natural grassland (0.5-4% over). We conclude that small-scale set-asides have the potential to improve connectivity, which we expect to help some species track climate change, and connect habitat patches within existing climate space for others. However, set-asides are unlikely to benefit low dispersal species which are probably at greatest risk from agricultural intensification.

External deposit with Dryad.
Date made available20 Jul 2020

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