Leerstoelgroep Natuurbeheer en plantenecologie, Nature Conservation and Plant Ecology
In densely populated areas, roadside verges often provide the last semi-natural habitats available. Their ecological value is often stressed by bio survey results. Yet insect summer surveys potentially misjudge the value of a biotope (roadside or otherwise) since the occurrences of species may only be seasonal, or even transient. To effectively ascertain the importance of a site for insects, species must be shown to complete their life cycle there or at least be shown to successfully accomplish critical life stages, such as reproduction or overwintering. To confirm overwintering of arthropods in roadsides, sods were cut in late winter in a verge where several years of summer survey data were available. The sods were placed in transparent semi-permeable cages and kept alive during subsequent spring, summer and autumn. All emerging arthropods were caught inside the cages using pitfall and funnel traps and identified to order or family level. Most of the terrestrial arthropod phyla and orders occurring in NW-Europe appeared to be represented. Several groups were further identified to the species level: Carabidae (Coleoptera), Curculionidae (Coleoptera), Araneae, Orthoptera, Apidae (Hymenoptera), Syrphidae (Diptera) and Dephacidae/Cercopidae (Hemiptera). Particularly for the Carabidae, Araneae and Curculionidae, many species recorded in summer were also found to overwinter; species overlap amounted to approximately 67%. Rarefaction of the summer sample or excluding possible summer vagrants, raised this overlap to as much as 88% for the Carabidae. Many of the species successfully overwintering in the roadside verge were generalists, but less common, more stenotopic species were present as well. Not only species hibernating as adults were involved, but also species overwintering in immature stages, indicating reproduction also takes place in the roadside verge. Apparently the roadside occurrence of many arthropod species, including stenotopic and declining ones, is not merely seasonal or incidental, and roadside verges do not necessarily act as a sink only. The ecological importance often attributed to roadside verges should clearly be taken seriously.