Epigeal spider assemblage responses to vegetation structure under contrasting grazing management in upland calcareous grasslands

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Calcareous grassland is one of the most species rich and diverse habitats within Europe, but has faced decline due to agricultural intensification and abandonment. In recent years, conservation organisations have altered grazing practices in an attempt to maintain floristic components. However, there has been little consideration of the effects of changes in grazing practices on invertebrates. This study determines the impacts of commonly used grazing practices in upland calcareous grasslands on spiders in relation to vegetation structural complexity. Typical grazing management regimes were examined in three regions of upland calcareous grassland in Britain. Spiders were sampled from April to August 2014 and vegetation structural complexity was recorded in 2 × 2 m quadrats paired with pitfall traps sequentially throughout the sample period. There were three distinct spider assemblages among the grazing regimes; ungrazed, heavy sheep grazed and one shared between cattle and light sheep (which had a comparable grazing intensity). The distinct spider assemblages among grazing regimes can be attributed to the interaction of grazing and habitat structure. Increased vegetation structural complexity in ungrazed regimes resulted in an assemblage dominated by ‘sheet web weavers’ (dominated by Linyphiidae). In contrast, reduced vegetation structural complexity and homogeneity in heavy sheep grazing resulted in an assemblage dominated by ‘other hunters’ (including Oedothorax and Erigone genera). Grazing regime alters vegetation structural complexity and is important in supporting distinct spider assemblages. This research indicates that low intensity conservation grazing regimes, in addition to no grazing, should be promoted across upland calcareous grassland landscapes to maintain heterogeneity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383-395
Number of pages13
JournalInsect Conservation and Diversity
Issue number4
Early online date27 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


  • Spiders
  • Grazing
  • Calcareous grassland
  • Vegetation Structure
  • Cattle
  • Sheep
  • Conservation
  • GLMM
  • Rarefaction
  • grazing
  • generalised linear mixed models
  • cattle
  • spiders
  • conservation
  • vegetation structure
  • rarefaction
  • sheep


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