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Contrasting effects of habitat quantity and quality on moth communities in fragmented landscapes

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Habitat loss is commonly identified as a major threat to the loss of global biodiversity. In this study, we expand on our previous work by addressing the question of how lepidopteran species richness and composition vary among remnants of North American eastern deciduous forest located within agricultural or pastoral landscapes. Specifically, we tested the relative roles of habitat quantity (measured as stand area and percent forest in the greater landscape) and habitat quality (measured as tree species diversity) as determinants of moth species richness. We sampled >19 000 individuals comprising 493 moth species from 21 forest sites in two forested ecoregions. In the unglaciated Western Allegheny Plateau, the species richness of moths with woody host plants diminished as forest stand size and percent forest in the landscape decreased, but the total species richness and abundance of moths were unaffected by stand size, percent forest in the landscape, or tree species diversity. In contrast, the overall species richness and abundance of moths in the glaciated North Central Tillplain were affected primarily by tree species diversity and secondarily by forest size. Higher tree species diversity may reduce species loss from smaller forest stands, suggesting that small, diverse forests can support comparable numbers of species to those in less diverse, large stands. Smaller forests, however, contained a disproportionate number of moth species that possess larvae known to feed on herbaceous vegetation. Thus, although woody plant feeding moths are lost from forests with changes in stand area, new species appear capable of recolonizing smaller fragments from the surrounding habitat matrix. Our study further suggests that when species replacement occurs, local patch size and habitat quality may be more important than landscape context in determining the community structure of forest Lepidoptera.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2004

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