Landscape Ecology

, Volume 33, Issue 8, pp 1335–1351 | Cite as

Land-use history drives contemporary pollinator community similarity

  • Sarah Cusser
  • John L. Neff
  • Shalene Jha
Research Article



Habitat loss, especially within agriculture, can be a threat to biodiversity. However, biodiversity may respond slowly to habitat loss, taking time to undergo successional change following a disturbance. Despite the fact that historic processes often mediate current patterns of biodiversity, most studies focus only on contemporary factors.


Our research examines how both contemporary and historic environmental factors impact current pollinator community similarity, or beta-diversity. We examine two hypotheses: H1) contemporary land-use predicts community similarity, but also that land-use history has long-lasting effects on beta-diversity; H2) the specific response to contemporary and historic environmental factors is explained by variation in pollinator species life-history traits.


We sampled 36 pollinator communities over a three-year period across cotton fields varying in historic and contemporary land-use. Using multiple regression on distance matrices (MRDM), we investigate correlations between community similarity and differences in contemporary and historic environmental factors.


First, we show that increased time between sampling events and the loss of semi-natural habitat over a 19-year period led to decreased community similarity. Interestingly, neither geographic distance nor contemporary environmental factors contributed to similarity. Second, we show that much of the variation in community similarity is due to variation in pollinator species life-history traits, such as foraging ability and diet breadth.


Results indicate that land-use history has long-lasting effects on community composition, greater than effects exhibited by contemporary factors. These legacy effects are critical considerations for conservation as their omission may lead to overly optimistic assessments of biodiversity in recently disturbed habitats.


Agroecology Gossypium hirsutum Historic land-use Community ecology MRDM 



Special thanks to the growers and land owners that allowed us to sample on their lands, without them none of this work would have been possible. In addition, the help of Texas A&M extension agents, crop consultants, and The Welder Wildlife Refuge, including Roy Parker, Stephen Biles, Lee Hutchins Jr., Nabil Nassari, Kenneth Hanslik, Terry Blankenship, and Selma Glasshook was invaluable. Thanks to the Jha and Woodard labs for helpful feedback and support, including Nate Pope, Antonio Castillo, Megan O’Connell, Kim Ballare, and Hollis Woodard. S.C. was funded by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and S.J. by the National Science Foundation and the Winkler Family Foundation.

Supplementary material

10980_2018_668_MOESM1_ESM.docx (11 kb)
Variation Inflation Factors (VIFs) for explanatory variables. Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 10 kb)
10980_2018_668_MOESM2_ESM.docx (12 kb)
Results of multiple regression on distance matrices (MRDM) for Hymenoptera and Lepidoptera orders excluding species that appeared every year. Asterisks show significant P values at alpha = 0.01. Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 11 kb)
10980_2018_668_MOESM3_ESM.docx (17 kb)
List of sites including site specific variables: year sampled, location (longitude and Latitude), cotton bloom density, semi-natural habitat(m2), meters edge habitat (m), change in semi-natural habitat (m2), and change in meters edge habitat (m). Supplementary material 3 (DOCX 16 kb)
10980_2018_668_MOESM4_ESM.docx (14 kb)
Pollinator species list organized by order. Supplementary material 4 (DOCX 14 kb)
10980_2018_668_MOESM5_ESM.eps (99 kb)
Plots showing the relationship between non-significant explanatory variables of the MRDM and full community Chao Similarity. a) Plot showing the non- significant negative relationship between difference in geographic distance (m) and community similarity (Chao), b) difference in cotton bloom density and community similarity (Chao), c) difference in semi-natural habitat (m2) and community similarity (Chao), d) difference in meters edge habitat (m) and community similarity (Chao), and e) difference in the change of meters edge habitat (m) and community similarity (Chao). Supplementary material 5 (EPS 99 kb)
10980_2018_668_MOESM6_ESM.eps (22 kb)
Histogram showing the distribution of Chao similarity between sites. A value of 0 shows no similarity, while a value of 1 shows complete similarity between two sites. Supplementary material 6 (EPS 21 kb)
10980_2018_668_MOESM7_ESM.eps (38 kb)
Histograms showing the distribution of explanatory variables across sites a) Histogram showing the distribution of bloom density, b) semi-natural habitat (m2), c) meters edge habitat (m), d) change in change in semi-natural habitat (m2), e) change in meters edge habitat (m) across sites. Supplementary material 7 (EPS 37 kb)
10980_2018_668_MOESM8_ESM.eps (38 kb)
Correlation matrix showing the direction and correlation of explanatory variables used in MRDM models. Supplementary material 8 (EPS 37 kb)


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Integrative BiologyThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  2. 2.Central Texas Melittological InstituteAustinUSA

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