Larval and phenological traits predict insect community response to mowing regime manipulations

Roel van Klink, Myles H.M. Menz, Hannes Baur, Oliver Dosch, Isabel Kühne, Lukas Lischer, Henryk Luka, Sandro Meyer, Timea Szikora, Debora Unternährer, Raphaël Arlettaz, Jean Yves Humbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


For the restoration of biodiversity in agricultural grasslands, it is essential to understand how management acts as an ecological filter on the resident species. Mowing constitutes such a filter: only species that possess functional traits enabling them to withstand its consequences can persist in the community. We investigated how the timing of mowing modulates this filtering effect for insects. We predicted that two traits drive species responses. Species with larval development within the meadow vegetation will suffer more from mowing than species whose larvae develop in or on the ground, or outside the meadows, while species with a later phenology should benefit from later mowing. We conducted a five-year experiment, replicated at 12 sites across the Swiss lowlands, applying three different mowing regimes to low-intensity hay meadows: (1) first cut of the year not earlier than 15 June (control regime); (2) the first cut delayed until 15 July; and (3) leaving an uncut grass refuge on 10–20% of the meadow area (after earliest first cut on 15 June). Before the first cut in years 4 or 5, we sampled larvae of Lepidoptera and sawflies, and adults of moths, parasitoid wasps, wild bees, hoverflies, ground beetles, and rove beetles. Overall, before the first cut of the year, abundances of species with vegetation-dwelling larvae were higher in meadows with delayed mowing or an uncut grass refuge, with some taxon-specific variation. In contrast, species whose larval development is independent of the meadow vegetation showed no differences in abundance between mowing regimes. Species richness did not differ among regimes. For species with vegetation-dwelling larvae, a fourth-corner analysis showed an association between early phenology and the control regime. No associations were found for the other functional groups. Our results show that slight modifications of mowing regimes, easily implementable in agri-environmental policy schemes, can boost invertebrate abundance, potentially benefitting insectivorous vertebrates.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01900
Number of pages13
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


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