What exactly IS a heathland invertebrate?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 4 August 2018 09:13

Back on the 16th June (how can six weeks feel like a lifetime away?!) I ran a short half-day course for the RSPB at Wiggonholt Common, part of Pulborough Brooks RSPB Reserve. The remit of the course was to teach a whole load of RSPB staff about heathland invertebrates. This recently restored heathland coming out of pines is fairly under-recorded, so we were likely to get some good records for the site. I used the picture of the Pantaloon Bee Dasypoda hirtipes just to attract your attention, although a nice 'bare ground' species, they are well known from the car park at Pulborough Brooks! Those hind legs are spectacular but I am sure I have seen them somewhere before...

By far the best thing we found was this Dalman's Leatherbug Spathocera dalmanii found by one of the attendees! It's actually my first Sussex example of this species (I have only recorded twice before, once in Hampshire and once in Dorset). It's also only the third Sussex record and the most easterly in the county! Well done.

What I really wanted to do was to show just how few heather specialists occur on a heath. In the table below, I have written a very quick one or two words about the most significant habitat requirements of that species. Now please note these are quick notes and someone is bound to object to the odd detail. So unless I have made a glaring mistake, please don't bother! It's a rough guide and this sort of analysis works by weight of numbers. For those that came on my chalk-grassland invertebrate course, I am working on a similar post but with twice the species, this is taking a little longer than I had hoped.

Taxon group Recommended Common Name Resource
Beetle Ampedus balteatus Deadwood
Beetle Anoplotrupes stercorosus Woodland, dung
Beetle Athous haemorrhoidalis Roots
Beetle Cryptocephalus fulvus Grassland
Beetle Cryptocephalus parvulus Birch
Beetle Dasytes aeratus Deadwood
Beetle Dune Chafer Roots, sandy soils
Beetle Green Tiger Beetle Bare ground
Beetle Heather Beetle Heather
Beetle Hemicrepidius hirtus Roots
Beetle Luperus longicornis Generalist
Beetle Malachite Beetle Deadwood
Beetle Nalassus laevioctostriatus Deadwood
Beetle Oedemera lurida Flowers
Beetle Small Heather Weevil Heather
Beetle Stenurella melanura Deadwood
Beetle Striped Ladybird Pines
Beetle Strophosoma melanogrammum Trees & bushes
Beetle Vine Weevil Roots
Beetle Welsh Chafer Roots
Bug Aphrophora alni Trees & bushes
Bug Evacanthus interruptus Generalist
Bug Rhyparochromus pini (Nb) Bare ground
Bug Spathocera dalmanii (NS) Acid grassland
Bug Ulopa reticulata Heather
Bug Zicrona caerulea Leaf beetle predator
Butterfly Green Hairstreak Gorse/broom
Butterfly Meadow Brown Grasses
Dragonfly Black-tailed Skimmer Aquatic larvae
Dragonfly Broad-bodied Chaser Aquatic larvae
Earwig Common Earwig Generalist omnivore
Fly Dasysyrphus venustus Woodland margins
Fly Dioctria atricapilla Grassland predator
Fly Helophilus pendulus Wetland
Fly Neoitamus cyanurus Woodland predator
Fly Scathophaga stercoraria Dung
Hymenopteran Ammophila sabulosa Bare ground
Hymenopteran Bombus pascuorum Flowers
Hymenopteran Cerceris rybyensis Bare ground
Hymenopteran Dasypoda hirtipes (Nb) Bare ground
Hymenopteran Formica fusca Generalist predator
Hymenopteran Honey Bee Flowers
Moth Beautiful Yellow Underwing Heather
Moth Brindled Beauty Trees & bushes
Moth Brown Silver-line Bracken
Moth Common Footman Lichens
Moth Endotricha flammealis Generalist
Moth Silver Y Migrant
Moth Vapourer Trees & bushes
Orthopteran Common Ground-hopper Generalist omnivore
Orthopteran Mottled Grasshopper Bare ground
Orthopteran Speckled Bush-cricket Generalist omnivore
Spider Araneus quadratus Generalist predator
Spider Arctosa leopardus Bare ground
Spider Cercidia prominens (NS) Scarce generalist
Spider Evarcha arcuata (NS) Heather
Spider Evarcha falcata Generalist predator
Spider Labyrinth Spider Generalist predator
Spider Mangora acalypha Grassland predator
Spider Marpissa muscosa Deadwood & fence posts
Spider Neottiura bimaculatum Trees & bushes
Spider Xerolycosa nemoralis (NS) Bare ground
Tick Ixodes ricinus Mammal parasite

Of the 63 species we recorded in around two hours, only five (7.9%) were thought to be directly associated with heathers. In total, six (9.5%) had conservation status which is pretty good. So generalists, bare ground species, woodland & scrub and deadwood species ALL outnumber those species that are tied to the heathers. Yet of these, it's only really the bare ground species that fall into what we would call a 'heathland invertebrate'. Not that the others are not welcome. Additionally if we count the acid grassland species and those on sandy soils, that's a total of 14 out of 63 species. So about 22.2% could perhaps be considered 'heathland invertebrates' but this is becoming more subjective as you group the species in this way.

This is a really interesting exercise in showing that a healthy heathland is not just about dense blocks of heather, far from it. A healthy heathland has a wide range of resources held in an intricate mosaic. This is not an easy thing to achieve, and requires careful management to hold these sites, often poised at the point of collapse, so that all of these resources can be present in some amounts all of the time.

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