Connectedness of habitat fragments boosts conservation benefits for butterflies, but only in landscapes with little cropland.
Global change pressures (GCPs) imperil species and associated ecosystem functions, but studies investigating interactions of landscape-scale pressures remain scarce. Loss of species-rich habitat and agricultural expansion are major threats for biodiversity, but if or how these factors interactively determine community-level shifts and conservation outcomes remains unclear.
We tested whether matrix simplification (dominance of cropland) and reduced connectivity (i.e. landscape-scale habitat loss) either additively, synergistically or antagonistically cause community shifts in butterflies, a group of high conservation relevance.
We surveyed butterflies on 30 small calcareous grassland fragments (< 1 ha) in Central Germany, representing independent gradients in grassland connectivity (an index combining grassland area and proximity), and matrix quality (landscape proportion of cropland). Using proportional odds logistic regression, we assessed whether connectivity and matrix quality interactively altered the distribution of Red List statuses, and assessed effects of local scale management (mowing, grazing, short-term abandonment).
We found synergistic, conservation relevant effects: Connectivity boosted the proportion of red-listed species from 20 to 52% in crop land poor landscapes, but not in crop land rich landscapes, particularly driven by endangered and critically endangered species. Grazed sites had the lowest species richness, abundance, and proportions of conservation relevant butterflies.
Mitigation measures targeting one landscape-scale pressure only may be inefficient, particularly for red-listed species. Increasing habitat connectivity bolsters butterfly communities and potential pollination services, but only if accompanied by measures to soften the matrix. Hence, halting biodiversity losses needs better understanding and implementation of complex conservation measures at the landscape scale.