Journal of Insect Conservation

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 57–67 | Cite as

Converting natural vegetation to farmland alters functional structure of ground-dwelling beetles and spiders in a desert oasis

  • Feng-Rui Li
  • Ji-Liang Liu
  • Te-Sheng Sun
  • Bo-Wen Jin
  • Li-Juan Chen


A vast area of native shrub-dominated steppe at the margins of desert oases in arid regions of China had been reclaimed as farmland in the last century for grain production to feed growing human populations. This study evaluated the consequences of this land-use change on the activity density, taxa richness and composition of functional groups (herbivores, predators and detritivores) of ground-dwelling beetles and spiders, which include some important ecological groups of natural enemies of insect pests (e.g. predatory spiders and beetles), pollinators and decomposers (e.g. detritivorous beetles). Ground-dwelling beetles and spiders were collected using pitfall traps in native steppe habitats and adjacent irrigated farmland of different ages (cultivated either for 27 or at least for 90 years). It was found the conversion of native steppe to farmland, regardless of farmland age, led to a significant increase in activity density of predators, with a greater increase in 90-year-old farmland than in 27-year-old farmland, but did not affect their taxa richness. However, native steppe conversion to farmland, regardless of farmland age, led to significant declines in activity density and taxa richness of both detritivores and herbivores, with a much greater decrease of activity or richness in detritivores than in herbivores in both farmland types. We also observed taxa-specific responses to the land conversion within functional groups. The functional composition of the beetle and spider community shifted from a community dominated by detritivores in the native steppe sites to one dominated by predators in the irrigated farmland sites. Our results suggest that the different functional groups of ground-dwelling beetles and spiders responded in a different way to the land conversion. The remarkable increase in predators and the dramatic decline in detritivores by converting natural vegetation to agricultural land are expected to strongly affect the desert ecosystem services such as biological pest control, pollination and decomposition.


Agricultural expansion Biological pest control Detritivorous arthropods Ecosystem services Land-use change Predatory arthropods 



We are grateful to the two anonymous referees for their helpful comments and suggestions on an early version of the manuscript. We would also like to thank the Linze Research Station, Chinese Academy of Sciences for providing research facilities and hospitality. This study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (#91025021 and 31170496) and the Cross and Team Cooperation Program for Science and Technology Innovation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (#Y229H11).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Feng-Rui Li
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ji-Liang Liu
    • 1
    • 3
  • Te-Sheng Sun
    • 2
  • Bo-Wen Jin
    • 1
    • 3
  • Li-Juan Chen
    • 3
  1. 1.Chinese Ecosystem Research Network Linze Inland River Basin Research Station, Cold and Arid Regions Environment and Engineering InstituteChinese Academy of SciencesLanzhouChina
  2. 2.Gansu Key Laboratory of Stress Physiology and Ecology, Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research InstituteChinese Academy of SciencesLanzhouChina
  3. 3.Laboratory of Water and Soil Resources, Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research InstituteChinese Academy of SciencesLanzhouChina

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