Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 22, Issue 6–7, pp 1415–1434 | Cite as

Are restricted species checklists or ant communities useful for assessing plant community composition and biodiversity in grazed pastures?

  • Ulf Grandin
  • Lisette Lenoir
  • Anders Glimskär
Original Paper


Semi-natural grasslands in Sweden are species-rich, and their natural values are strongly dependent on continuous management, mainly by grazing. However, the large heterogeneity in vegetation within and between grassland sites must be taken into account when designing management and preservation schemes, calling for precise field monitoring and assessment of habitat type and land use history. We have evaluated different surrogate measures to assess community composition and biodiversity of the most common vegetation types in grazed semi-natural pastures. We compared the complete plant community, two reduced checklists intended for quick surveys of the plant community, and the ant community. The results suggest that the taxonomic resolution in a plant inventory is important for both biodiversity assessment and recognition of vegetation types. The extent of a reduced species checklist was of greater importance than its quality for describing the plant community. Reduced checklists should only be used if they comprise species with known affinity to the studied vegetation types. We also found that plants and ants experience grazed semi-natural grasslands in different ways. Ant communities did not resemble the communities deduced from plant inventories, or vegetation types recognised by field staff.


Semi-natural grassland Indicator species Surrogate taxa Restricted sampling Inventory 



David Angeler, anonymous referees and the editor are thanked for constructive criticism that helped us to improve the manuscript.


  1. Abensperg-Traun MGT, Smith GWA, Steven DE (1996) The effects of habitat fragmentation and livestock grazing on animal communities in remnants of gimlet Eucalyptus salubris woodland in the western Australian wheat belt. J Appl Ecol 33:1281–1301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bestelmeyer BT, Wiens JA (1996) The effects of land use on the structure of ground-foraging ant communities in the Argentine Chaco. Ecol Appl 6:1225–1240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Billeter R, Hooftman DAP, Diemer M (2003) Differential and reversible responses of common fen meadow species to abandonment. Appl Veg Sci 6:3–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Billeter R, Liira J, Bailey D, Bugter R, Arens P et al (2008) Indicators for biodiversity in agricultural landscapes: a pan-European study. J Appl Ecol 45:141–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Correll O, Isselstein J, Pavlu V (2003) Studying spatial and temporal dynamics of sward structure at low stocking densities: the use of an extended rising-plate-meter method. Grass Forage Sci 58:450–454CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cousins SAO, Lindborg R (2004) Assessing changes in plant distribution patterns—indicator species versus plant functional types. Ecol Indic 4:17–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cousins SAO, Ohlson H, Eriksson O (2007) Effects of historical and present fragmentation on plant species diversity in semi-natural grasslands in Swedish rural landscapes. Landsc Ecol 22:723–730CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Critchley CNR, Chambers BJ, Fowbert JA, Sanderson RA, Bhogal A, Rose SC (2002) Association between lowland grassland plant communities and soil properties. Biol Conserv 105:199–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dahms H, Lenoir L, Lindborg R, Wolters V, Dauber J (2010) Restoration of seminatural grasslands: what is the impact of ants. Res Ecol 18:330–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dauber J, Simmering D (2006) Ant assemblages in successional stages of Scotch broom stands (Hymenoptera: Formicidae, Spermatophyta). Myrmecologische Nachrichten 9:55–64Google Scholar
  11. Dauber J, Wolters V (2003) Microbial activity and functional diversity in the mounds of three different ant species. Soil Biol Biochem 32:93–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dauber J, Hirsch M, Simmering D, Waldhardt R, Otte A, Wolters V (2003) Landscape structure as an indicator of biodiversity: matrix effects on species richness. Agric Ecosyst Environ 98:321–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Del Toro I, Ribbons RR, Pelini S (2012) The little things that run the world revisited: a review of ant-mediated ecosystem services and disservices (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Myrmecological News 17:133–146Google Scholar
  14. Dufrêne M, Legendre P (1997) Species assemblages and indicator species: the need for a flexible asymmetrical approach. Ecol Monogr 67:345–366Google Scholar
  15. Ejrnaes R, Bruun HH (2000) Gradient analysis of dry grassland vegetation in Denmark. J Veg Sci 11:573–584CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ejrnaes R, Bruun HH, Aude E, Buchwald E (2004) Developing a classifier for the habitats directive grassland types in Denmark using species lists for prediction. J Veg Sci 7:71–80Google Scholar
  17. Eliasson CU (2005) Maculinea. Nationalnyckeln till Sveriges flora och fauna. Fjäriler: Dagfjärilar. Hesperiidae: Nymphalidae. ArtDatabanken, SLU, Uppsala, pp 201–204Google Scholar
  18. Ellison AM (2012) Out of Oz: opportunities and challenges for using ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) as biological indicators in north-temperate cold biomes. Myrmecological News 17:105–119Google Scholar
  19. Englisch T, Steiner FM, Schlick-Steiner BC (2005) Fine-scale grassland assemblage analysis in Central Europe: ants tell another story than plants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae; Spermatophyta). Myrmecologische Nachrichten 7:61–67Google Scholar
  20. Gallé L, Körmöczi L, Hornung E, Kerekes J (1998) Structure of ant assemblages in a middle-European successional sand-dune area. Tiscia 31:19–28Google Scholar
  21. Gallegos Torell Å, Glimskär A (2009) Computer-aided calibration for visual estimation of vegetation cover. J Veg Sci 20:973–983CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gotelli NJ, Ellison AM, Dunn RR, Sanders NJ (2011) Counting ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): biodiversity sampling and statistical analysis for myrmecologists. Myrmecological News 15:13–19Google Scholar
  23. Gough MW, Marrs RH (1990) A comparison of soil fertility between semi-natural and agricultural plant communities: implications for the creation of species-rich grassland on abandoned agricultural land. Biol Conserv 51:83–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Greenslade PJM (1973) Sampling ants with pitfall traps: digging-in effects. Insect Soc 20:343–353CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hammer O, Harper DAT, Ryan PD (2001) PAST: Palaeontological statistics software package for education and data analysis. Palaeontol Electron 4:1–9Google Scholar
  26. Heink U, Kowarik I (2010) What are indicators? On the definition of indicators in ecology and environmental planning. Ecol Indic 10:584–593CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. JMP® (2012) Version 10. SAS Institute Inc., CaryGoogle Scholar
  28. Kati V, Devillers P, Dufrêne M, Legakis A, Vokou D, Lebrun P (2004) Testing the value of six taxonomic groups as biodiversity indicators at a local scale. Conserv Biol 18:667–675CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kent R, Carmel Y (2011) Evaluation of five clustering algorithms for biodiversity surrogates. Ecol Indic 11:896–901CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kleijn D, Sutherland WJ (2003) How effective are European agri-environment schemes in conserving and promoting bio-diversity? J Appl Ecol 40:947–969CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Klimek S, Richter gen Kemmermann A, Hofmann M, Isselstein J (2007) Plant species richness and composition in managed grasslands: the relative importance of field management and environmental factors. Biol Conserv 134:559–570CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kumm KI (2003) Sustainable management of Swedish semi-natural pastures with high species diversity. J Nat Conserv 11:117–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lennartsson T, Oostermeijer GB (2001) Demographic variation and population viability in Gentianella campestris: effects of grassland management and environmental stochasticity. J Ecol 89:415–463CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lenoir L (2009) Ant species composition and richness in different types of semi-natural grasslands. Russ J Ecol 40:471–476CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lenoir L, Lennartsson T (2010) Effects of timing of grazing on arthropods communities in semi-natutal grasslands. J Insect Sci 10:1–24Google Scholar
  36. Lenoir L, Persson T, Bengtsson J (2001) Wood ants as potential hot spots for carbon and nitrogen mineralisation. Biol Fertil Soils 34:235–240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mandelik Y, Dayan T, Chikatunov V, Kravchenko V (2012) The relative performance of taxonomic vs. environmental indicators for local biodiversity assessment: a comparative study. Ecol Indic 15:171–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. McCune B, Mefford MJ (1999) PC-ORD. Multivariate analysis of ecological data. Version 5.01. MjM Software, Gleneden Beach, OregonGoogle Scholar
  39. Mielke PV Jr (1984) Meteorological applications of permutation techniques based on distance functions. In: Krishnaiah PR, Sen PK (eds) Handbook of statistics. Elsevier Science Publishers, Amsterdam, pp 813–830Google Scholar
  40. Nash MA, Whitford WG, van Zee JW, Havstad K (1998) Monitoring changes in stressed ecosystems using patterns of ant communities. Environ Monit Assess 51:201–210CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Osborn F, Goita W, Cabrera M, Jaffé K (1999) Ants, plants and butterflies as diversity indicators: comparisons between strata at six forest sites in Venezuela. Stud Neotrop Fauna Environ 34:59–64Google Scholar
  42. Öster M, Cousins S, Eriksson O (2007) Size and heterogeneity rather than landscape context determine plant species richness in semi-natural grasslands. J Veg Sci 18:859–868CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Öster M, Persson K, Eriksson O (2008) Validation of plant diversity indicators in semi-natural grasslands. Agric Ecosyst Environ 125:65–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Påhlsson L (ed) (1998) Vegetationstyper i Norden. TemaNord 1998: 510. Nordic Council of Ministers, CopenhagenGoogle Scholar
  45. Pärt T, Söderström B (1999) Conservation value of semi-natural pastures in Sweden: contrasting botanical and avian measures. Conserv Biol 13:755–765CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pfeiffer M, Chimedregzen L, Ulykpan K (2003) Community organization and species richness of ants (Hymenoptera/Formicidae) in Mongolia along an ecological gradient from steppe to Gobi desert. J Biogeogr 30:1921–1935CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pihlgren A, Lennartsson T (2008) Effects of shrubs on herbs and grasses in semi-natural grasslands— positive, negative or neutral relationships. Grass For Sci 63:9–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Pihlgren A, Lenoir L, Dahms H (2010) Ant and plant species richness in relation to grazing, fertilisation and topography. J Nat Conserv 18:118–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Pöyry J, Luoto M, Paukkunen J, Pykälä J, Raatikainen K, Kuussaari M (2006) Different responses of plants and herbivore insects to a gradient of vegetation height: an indicator of the vertebrate grazing intensity and successional age. Oikos 115:401–412CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rand WM (1971) Objective criteria for the evaluation of clustering methods. J Am Stat Assoc 66:846–850CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Ranneby B, Cruse T, Hägglund B, Jonasson H, Swärd J (1987) Designing a new national forest survey for Sweden. Stud For Suec 177:1–29Google Scholar
  52. Sauberer N, Zulka KP, Abensperg-Traun M, Berg H-M, Bieringer G et al (2004) Surrogate taxa for biodiversity in agricultural landscapes of eastern Austria. Biol Conserv 117:181–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Seifert B (1996) Ameisen beobachten, bestimmen. Naturbuch Verlag, AugsburgGoogle Scholar
  54. Smart SM, Scott WA (2004) Bias in Ellenberg indicator values—problems with detection of the effect of vegetation type. J Veg Sci 15:843–846Google Scholar
  55. Söderström B, Svensson B, Vessby K, Glimskär A (2001) Plants, insects and birds in semi-natural pastures in relation to local habitat and landscape factors. Biodivers Conserv 10:1839–1863CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Steiner FM, Schlick-Steiner BC, Moder K, Bruckner A, Christian E (2005) Congruence of data from different trapping periods of ant pitfall catches (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Sociobiology 46:105–116Google Scholar
  57. ter Braak CJF, Smilauer P (2002) CANOCO reference manual and CanoDraw for Windows user’s guide: software for Canonical Community Ordination (version 4.5). Microcomputer Power, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  58. Underwood EC, Fisher BL (2006) The role of ants in conservation monitoring: if, when, and how. Biol Conserv 132:166–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Vellend M, Lilley PL, Starzomski BM (2008) Using subsets of species in biodiversity surveys. J Appl Ecol 45:161–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Vessby K, Söderström B, Glimskär A, Svensson B (2002) Species-richness correlations of six different taxa in Swedish semi-natural grasslands. Conserv Biol 16:430–439CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Wahlman H, Milberg P (2002) Management of semi-natural grassland vegetation: evaluation of a long-term experiment in southern Sweden. Ann Bot Fenn 39:159–166Google Scholar
  62. Wardhardt R, Otte A (2003) Indicators of plant species and community diversity in grasslands. Agric Ecosyst Environ 98:339–351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Wittig B, Richter gen. Kemmermann A, Zacharias D (2006) An indicator species approach for result-orientated subsidies of ecological services in grasslands—a study in Northwestern Germany. Biol Conserv 133:186–197Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Aquatic Sciences and AssessmentSwedish University of Agricultural SciencesUppsalaSweden
  2. 2.Department of EcologySwedish University of Agricultural SciencesUppsalaSweden
  3. 3.Department of Forest Resource ManagementSwedish University of Agricultural SciencesUmeåSweden

Personalised recommendations