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Disentangling the effects of farmland use, habitat edges, and vegetation structure on ground beetle morphological traits


Land-use change due to agriculture has a major influence on arthropod biodiversity, and may influence species differently depending on their traits. It is unclear how species traits vary across different land uses and their edges, with most studies focussing on single habitat types and overlooking edge effects. We examined variation in morphological traits of carabid beetles (Coleoptera:Carabidae) on both sides of edges between woodlands and four adjoining, but contrasting farmland uses in an agricultural landscape. We asked: (1) how do traits differ between woodlands and different adjoining farmland uses (crop, fallow, restoration planting, and woody debris applied over crop), and do effects depend on increasing distances from the farmland–woodland edge? (2) Does vegetation structure explain observed effects of adjoining farmland use and edge effects on these traits? We found that carabid communities varied in body size and shape, including traits associated with diet, robustness, and visual ability. Smaller sized species were associated with woodlands and larger sized species with farmlands. Farmland use further influenced these associations, where woodlands adjoining plantings supported smaller species, while fallows and crops supported larger species. Vegetation structure significantly influenced body size, flying ability, and body shape, and helped explain the effects of farmland use and distance from edges on body size. We highlight the important role of vegetation structure, farmland use, and edge effects in filtering the morphological traits of carabid assemblages across a highly modified agricultural landscape. Our findings suggest that farmland management can influence body size and dispersal-related traits in farmland and adjacent native vegetation.

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This work was supported by Central Tablelands Local Land Services (through Australian Government funding), Lake Cowal Foundation and Mount Mulga Pastoral Company. KN was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship. Thanks to landholders (Day, Foy, Conlan, Hall, Lucas, Nowlan, Aylott, Grimm, Robinson, Crawford, Daley families) for property access. We thank volunteers for fieldwork (particularly Alicia Ng, Nicholas Shore, Margaret Ning, Mal Carnegie and Dimitrios Tsifakis) and lab assistance (particularly Daniel Martinez-Escobar); Kim Pullen, and Michael Nash for carabid identification.

Author information

KN and DAD conceived the ideas and design for overall experiment, KN, PB, and SaM conceived and developed traits methodology, KN analysed data with statistical input from WB and MJE, KN and MJE conducted lab work, KN conducted fieldwork and led manuscript writing, and all authors revised the manuscript.

Correspondence to Katherina Ng.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

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This study deserves to be honoured as a highlighted student paper because it uncovers the ecological mechanisms underpinning fauna responses to land-use change. Our study is the first to quantify how changes in farmland use and vegetation structure both influence a universally important trait, body size, across the landscape. The novelty of our study lies in the use of traits-based approaches in a robust landscape-level experimental design. In contrast to the perception that farmlands are biodiversity poor, our findings highlight that a diversity of species were represented by a range of traits which enable their persistence in these dynamic farming landscapes.

Communicated by Nina Farwig.

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Ng, K., Barton, P.S., Blanchard, W. et al. Disentangling the effects of farmland use, habitat edges, and vegetation structure on ground beetle morphological traits. Oecologia 188, 645–657 (2018).

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  • Fourth-corner analysis
  • Fragmented landscape
  • Size–grain hypothesis
  • Soft traits
  • Textural-discontinuity hypothesis