Intensive agriculture reduces soil biodiversity across Europe

Maria A. Tsiafouli, Elisa Thébault, Stefanos P. Sgardelis, Peter C. De Ruiter, Wim H. Van Der Putten, Klaus Birkhofer, Lia Hemerik, Franciska T. De Vries, Richard D. Bardgett, Mark Vincent Brady, Lisa Bjornlund, Helene Bracht Jørgensen, Sören Christensen, Tina D'Hertefeldt, Stefan Hotes, W.H. Gera Hol, Jan Frouz, Mira Liiri, Simon R. Mortimer, Heikki SetäläJoseph Tzanopoulos, Karoline Uteseny, Václav Pižl, Josef Stary, Volkmar Wolters, Katarina Hedlund

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Soil biodiversity plays a key role in regulating the processes that underpin the delivery of ecosystem goods and services in terrestrial ecosystems. Agricultural intensification is known to change the diversity of individual groups of soil biota, but less is known about how intensification affects biodiversity of the soil food web as a whole, and whether or not these effects may be generalized across regions. We examined biodiversity in soil food webs from grasslands, extensive and intensive rotations in four agricultural regions across Europe: in Sweden, the UK, the Czech Republic and Greece. Effects of land use intensity were quantified based on structure and diversity among functional groups in the soil food web, as well as on community-weighted mean body mass of soil fauna. We also elucidate land use intensity effects on diversity of taxonomic units within taxonomic groups of soil fauna. We found that between regions soil food web diversity measures were variable, but that increasing land use intensity caused highly consistent responses. In particular, land use intensification reduced the complexity in the soil food webs, as well as the community-weighted mean body mass of soil fauna. In all regions across Europe, species richness of earthworms, Collembolans and oribatid mites was negatively affected by increased land use intensity. The taxonomic distinctness, which is a measure of taxonomic relatedness of species in a community that is independent of species richness, was also reduced by land use intensification. We conclude that intensive agriculture reduces soil biodiversity, making soil food webs less diverse and composed of smaller bodied organisms. Land use intensification results in fewer functional groups of soil biota with fewer and taxonomically more closely related species. We discuss how these changes in soil biodiversity due to land use intensification may threaten the functioning of soil in agricultural production systems. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)973-985
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number2
Early online date17 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • agricultural intensification
  • body mass
  • ecosystem services
  • functional groups
  • soil food web
  • taxonomic breadth
  • taxonomic distinctness
  • terrestrial ecosystems
  • international


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