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Stirling PhD student makes the case for moths

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Schemes designed to reverse declines in farmland biodiversity can help increase the number of moth species and the size of their populations, researchers at the University of Stirling have found.

The study by PhD student Elisa Fuentes-Montemayor published online by the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology, examines the effect of agri-environment schemes on moths.

Agri-schemes are designed to provide or improve wildlife habitat and examples include leaving uncropped margins at the edges of fields or managing hedgerows in a particular way. In Scotland all such schemes are heavily funded by the EU, with the subsidies being distributed by the government. However insufficient research has been carried out to determine which of the various agri-schemes are most effective, and very little is known about whether they can help moths, many species of which have declined dramatically over the past few decades.

As part of research investigating the effects of agri-environment schemes on bats and their nocturnal insect prey, Elisa monitored a total of 36 farms in the Scottish Central Belt, half of which were actively involved in agri-schemes. Her research involved the setting up of many traps to capture moths – part of the staple diet of some bat species – and examination of their content showed that farms managing field margins, species-rich grasslands and water margins under agri-environment schemes were associated with a greater number of moth species and larger populations sizes.

Some of the moths identified on the farms are currently in decline in the UK. “Moths are important pollinators for some plants and also a vital food source for many birds, bats and small mammals,” explained Elisa. “Many common moths have undergone large population declines and 62 species have become extinct within the UK during the 20th century, so finding ways to reverse these trends is very important.” 

Dr Kirsty Park, who is Elisa’s research supervisor at the University’s School of Natural Sciences, said: “This is valuable information as moths are an important part of our ecosystem. This research indicates that the implementation of simple management prescriptions applied to relatively small areas can help increase the species richness and abundance of moth populations in agricultural environments.”

Notes to editors:

Funding for this work came from a scholarship provided by the Mexican government (CONACYT) to Elisa Fuentes-Montemayor, and a grant from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species.

To find out more about moths, click here: http://www.butterfly-conservation.org/text/5/moths.html

To view the paper online, click here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01927.x/abstract

For more on this story, contact Dr Park on: 01786 467799 or email: k.j.park@stir.ac.uk

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