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Whole-of-community invertebrate rewilding: Leaf litter transplants rapidly increase beetle diversity during restoration

Citation

Contos, Peter; Murphy, Nicholas; Gibb, Heloise (2022), Whole-of-community invertebrate rewilding: Leaf litter transplants rapidly increase beetle diversity during restoration, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.bcc2fqzgs

Abstract

Restoration of degraded areas is now a central tool in humanity’s response to continued species loss. However, restoration projects often report exceedingly slow or failed recolonization of fauna, especially dispersal-constrained groups such as invertebrates. Active interventions via reintroducing or “rewilding” invertebrates may assist recolonization and speed up the restoration of communities towards a desired target. However, invertebrate rewilding is rarely implemented during ecological restoration. Here, we studied the efficacy of invertebrate rewilding as a means of improving diversity and compositional similarities to remnant communities during restoration. Rewilding was conducted by transplanting leaf litter and soil, including associated communities of invertebrates from species-rich remnant sites into species-poor and geographically isolated revegetated farmland sites. We sampled pre- and post-rewilding invertebrate communities in remnant, rewilded revegetation, and control revegetation sites. Our data contains mesoinvertebrate (<5mm in size) community samples from 6 sites within each of our 3 treatments. We took 8 subsamples measuring 25 cm by 25 cm containing the entire mesoinvertebrate leaf litter community from each site across 4 different seasons. The first season was a pre-treatment baseline measurement and was taken in November 2018. Thereafter, we sampled 7-, 18-, and 27- months post-rewilding. Our data contains a range of traits for each morphospecies (Size in mm, trophic group, and whether they were winged or flightless) and two environmental variables measured at each site (Volumetric water content and elevation). We included these for our Hierarchical Modelling of Species Community (HMSC) approach to determine whether biological properties of species or environmental variables were driving species distributions. Beetle (Coleoptera) morphospecies richness increased rapidly in rewilded sites and was indistinguishable from remnant communities as early as 7 months post-rewilding. Beetle community similarity in the rewilding sites significantly deviated from the control sites 27 months post-rewilding, however, remnant communities remained distinct over the study timeframe. Establishment success varied as other taxa did not respond as consistently as beetles within the study timeframe. Our results demonstrate that the relatively simple act of transplanting leaf litter can result in comparatively large increases in morphospecies richness during restoration in a short timeframe.

Methods

We collected eight 25 cm by 25 cm subsamples of leaf litter from each site in each sampling session. We ran the leaf litter through Tullgren funnels to extract the entire community, which was then sorted into morphospecies for community analyses.

Funding

Hermon Slade Foundation