Impact of farm size and topography on plant and insect diversity of managed grasslands in the Alps

Lorenzo Marini, Paolo Fontana, Sebastian Klimek, Andrea Battisti, Kevin J. Gaston

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78 Citations (Scopus)


Since the second half of the 20th century, the intensification of land-use practices and the associated decline in semi-natural habitats have been the major drivers of farmland biodiversity loss. In many marginal agricultural systems, a structural transformation of farms, from small and traditional to large and intensive, has also been observed. We unravelled the impact of farm size and slope on plant, orthopteran and butterfly diversity in 132 hay meadows in a region of the Italian Alps. We defined three farm size classes representing different levels of intensification and used mixed models to test the influence of farm size along with topographic slope. The diversity of plants, orthopterans and butterflies declined with management intensity at the field scale, which mainly depended on farm size and grassland topography. We found a positive effect of slope and a negative influence of farm size on species richness of the three taxonomic groups. Large farms were strongly associated with higher production of organic fertilizers and higher soil fertility than small traditional farms, irrespective of meadow slope. At the regional scale, we found that large farms managed flatter meadows (slope = 9.0) than small traditional farms (slope = 13.5), contributing to the abandonment of steep species-rich grassland areas. Regional stakeholders should consider targeted conservation schemes to prevent the ongoing substitution of small farms with large intensive farms. A complementary solution could be to target future conservation measures to support farms with low production of organic fertilizers and to reward the maintenance of the current management of steep meadows.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)394-403
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Agricultural intensification
  • Butterfly
  • Eutrophication
  • Grassland management
  • Insect conservation
  • Orthoptera

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