The aim of this study was to assess spider diversity among habitats that are typically used for afforestation in Ireland, and to identify habitat parameters which could potentially be used as indicators of their biodiversity value. Ground-dwelling spiders were surveyed in 24 sites across Ireland, with eight sites of each of the following habitat types: improved grassland, wet grassland and peatland. The spiders were sampled using pitfall traps which were located within the major vegetation types present in each site as well as within supplementary habitat features which may add to biodiversity value of the whole site such as hedgerows, flushes and the edges of ditches and streams.
Each habitat supported distinct spider assemblages that reflect major differences in both environmental conditions and management regime. The improved grasslands had low spider species richness and low variation in assemblage structure which is probably related to the intensive management of this habitat. In this case hedgerows maybe an important aspect of the spider diversity within agricultural landscapes. The peatlands, and to a lesser extent wet grasslands, supported a diverse and specialist spider fauna, including a number of rare species; this may be due to differences in soil moisture and plant architecture. Indicators of biodiversity value identified included wet flushes in the peatlands and low grazing pressure in the wet grasslands. This study suggests that in terms of biodiversity value improved grassland is the preferable habitat for afforestation, because of the poor baseline spider diversity. However, it may be unrealistic to expect land owners to afforest their most productive agricultural land, so the management and habitat indicators identified in this study may be of use for assessing habitat quality among the wet grassland and peatlands to allow sites with lower biodiversity value to be identified. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.