Changing Habitats

Current Activity

Habitat presence and quality is a controlling factor in the distribution and abundance of species. Widespread post-war habitat destruction led to a decline in many species and was a driver for the BRC’s establishment. Now, changes to habitats are often more subtle, brought about by factors such as fluctuating grazing pressure, eutrophication or changing climate. The recording schemes are essential in documenting the effect of these changes and in understanding the habitat requirements of species.

 

 

Key Outputs

The publication of atlases provides the opportunity to analyse long-term changes in range in response to habitat changes and other variables. Codification of attributes, as in PLANTATT147 and BRYOATT148, allows species to be linked to their habitats, an important approach being extended to other species groups. Changes in popular groups with rapidly changing ranges, such as butterflies, are summarised every five years. Records in the BRC database are available for analysis in between major, ‘state of the nation’ reports.

Catastrophic decline of a habitat specialist: Argynnis adippe, the High Brown Fritillary

Map showing declining distribution of high brown fritillary

Figure: Jim Asher, Butterfly Conservation

The High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe) requires warm microhabitats where the larval foodplants, various species of violet, occur with bracken; they include south-facing rocky slopes, coppice woodlands or woodland clearings. Its decline mirrors the loss of coppiced woodland and bracken/grassland mosaics with low intensity grazing by cattle or ponies.

Expansion of a species able to colonise newly available habitats: Hairy Dragonfly

Map showing expansion of hairy dragonfly distribution

Figure: Steve Cham, British Dragonfly Society

As shown by the atlas published in 2014, the distribution of the Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) was mainly coastal in Britain until recent years when it has colonised a number of inland gravel pits that were excavated in the 1960s and have acquired a mature vegetation cover. It may also have benefited from the more favourable climate in recent decades.

National Plant Monitoring Scheme

Photo of surveying for the natinoal plant monitoring scheme

Photo: Lucy Hulmes, CEH.

The National Plant Monitoring Scheme was designed and developed my UKCEH, BSBI, Plantlife and JNCC

The Scheme aims to fill a gap in terrestrial habitat monitoring by focusing on the abundance of plant species within plots for a range of vegetation types. This should enable changes in plant diversity to be detected earlier than is possible with traditional biological recording conducted at broader scales.

General recording has demonstrated habitat change effects on species with a very narrow habitat requirement, such as arable weeds or chalk grassland butterflies. Effects on species with a broader habitat range are harder to measure. Allocating records more precisely to habitats make it possible to investigate the effects of habitat modification on species with broader requirements, and identify changes in their habitat requirements in response to changing climate. This is a rationale of the National Plant Monitoring Scheme.

References

Plummer K.E., Powney G.D., Isaac N.J.B., Siriwardena G.M. (2019) Scoping the use of predictive models to address priority questions concerning terrestrial biodiversity. JNCC Report no. 639. JNCC, Peterborough
Pescott Oliver L., Humphrey Thomas A., Stroh Peter A., Walker Kevin J. (2019) Temporal changes in distributions and the species atlas: how can British and Irish plant data shoulder the inferential burden?. Botanical Society of Britain \& Ireland,
Doyle Toby, Hawkes Will L. S., Massy Richard, Powney Gary D., Menz Myles H. M., Wotton Karl R. (2020) Pollination by hoverflies in the Anthropocene. Royal Society,
Maskell Lindsay C., Henrys Peter, Pescott Oliver L., Smart Simon M. (2020) Long-term trends in the distribution, abundance and impact of native “injurious” weeds. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd,
Pescott Oliver L., Jitlal Mark (2020) Reassessing the observational evidence for nitrogen deposition impacts in acid grassland: spatial Bayesian linear models indicate small and ambiguous effects on species richness. ,
Greenop Arran, Woodcock Ben A., Outhwaite Charlotte L., Carvell Claire, Pywell Richard F., Mancini Francesca, Edwards François K., Johnson Andrew C., Isaac Nick J.B. (2021) Patterns of invertebrate functional diversity highlight the vulnerability of ecosystem services over a 45-year period. ,
Boyd Robin J., Powney Gary D., Burns Fiona, Danet Alain, Duchenne François, Grainger Matthew J., Jarvis Susan G., Martin Gabrielle, Nilsen Erlend B., Porcher Emmanuelle, Stewart Gavin B., Wilson Oliver J., Pescott Oliver L. (2022) ROBITT: A tool for assessing the risk-of-bias in studies of temporal trends in ecology. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd,
Pakeman Robin J., Brien David O, Genney David, Brooker Rob W (2022) Identifying drivers of change in bryophyte and lichen species occupancy in Scotland. ,
Bell James R., Botham Marc S., Henrys Peter A., Leech David I., Pearce-Higgins James W., Shortall Chris R., Brereton Tom M., Pickup Jon, Thackeray Stephen J. (2019) Spatial and habitat variation in aphid, butterfly, moth and bird phenologies over the last half century. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd,
Honek Alois, Martinkova Zdenka, Roy Helen E, Dixon Anthony F G, Skuhrovec Jiří, Pekár Stano, Brabec Marek (2018) Differences in the Phenology of Harmonia axyridis (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) and Native Coccinellids in Central Europe. ,