Detailed understanding of a species" natural history and environmental needs across spatial scales is a primary requisite for effective conservation planning, particularly for species with complex life cycles in which different life stages occupy different niches and respond to the environment at different scales. However, niche models applied to conservation often neglect early life stages and are mostly performed at broad spatial scales. Using the endangered heath tiger beetle (Cicindela sylvatica) as a model species, we relate presence/absence and abundance data of locally dispersing adults and sedentary larvae to abiotic and biotic variables measured in a multiscale approach within the geographic extent relevant to active conservation management. At the scale of hundreds of meters, fine-grained abiotic conditions (i.e., vegetation structure) are fundamental determinants of the occurrence of both life stages, whereas the effect of biotic factors is mostly contained in the abiotic signature. The combination of dense heath vegetation and bare ground areas is thus the first requirement for the species" preservation, provided that accessibility to the suitable habitat is ensured. At a smaller scale (centimetres), the influence of abiotic factors on larval occurrence becomes negligible, suggesting the existence of important additional variables acting within larval proximity. Sustained significant correlations between neighbouring larvae in the models provide an indication of the potential impact of neighbourhood crowding on the larval niche within a few centimetres. Since the species spends the majority of its life cycle in the larval stage, it is essential to consider the hierarchical abiotic and biotic processes affecting the larvae when designing practical conservation guidelines for the species. This underlines the necessity for a more critical evaluation of the consequences of disregarding niche variation between life stages when estimating niches and addressing effective conservation measures for species with complex life cycles.
Adaptation, Physiological Animals Beetles/growth & development* Conservation of Natural Resources Environment* Larva Life Cycle Stages* Models, Theoretical Population Dynamics