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Bonte, D., Maelfait, J.-P., Hoffmann, M.: The impact of grazing on spider communities in a mesophytic calcareous dune grassland. Journal of Coastal Conservation, 6: 135-144, 2000.


Abstract. During 1994-1995 and 1997-1998 spiders were sampled with pitfall traps in a botanically rich, mesophytic, calcareous dune grassland in Belgium. As a consequence of intensive cattle grazing, vegetation variation in a large part of the area had diminished. The study area was also patchily grazed by rabbits. Community analysis with TWINSPAN revealed five distinct spider communities. Ecological differentiation was best explained by combination of the habitat variables: distance from grazed or non-grazed vegetation, Rosa pimpinellifolia cover and grass cover in both summer and winter. Species diversity was highest in the border zone between the cattle-grazed and non cattle-grazed sites. Correlation of the most abundant spider species with the vegetation determinants explains the ecological differentiation between the spider communities. Species were classified into seven major groups that reflect the species' habitat preferences. The group showing clear association with non cattle-grazed, tall vegetation consists of common species. Characteristic species  for the intensively cattle-grazed sites are common aeronauts and rare species such as Walckenaeria stylifrons, Mastigusa arietina, Ceratinopsis romana and Pardosa monticola. The latter are shown to be dependent on ungrazed vegetation for juvenile development and overwintering. Intensive grazing results in homogeneous short vegetation, which can only be colonized by ‘open ground’ species with a well-developed dispersal capacity, or by species which are not dependent on litter-rich situations for juvenile development. An extensive cattle grazing regime results in a patchy mosaic grassland where, in addition to the above mentioned groups of species, other species survive by migrating between the buffered litter rich ungrazed vegetation and the short vegetation. Additionally, some typical and rare species prefer the transition zone between the grazed and the ungrazed vegetation because they are associated with specific habitat structures or inhabiting ant-species.

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