Microarthropod communities and their ecosystem services restore when permanent grassland with mowing or low-intensity grazing is installed

Nick van Eekeren* (Corresponding author), Eelke Jongejans, Maaike van Agtmaal, Yuxi Guo, Merit van der Velden, Carmen Versteeg, Henk Siepel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
110 Downloads (Pure)


The current focus on intensification and maximizing productivity in agriculture can endanger soil biota and the ecosystem services they provide in such a way that it acts counterproductive and increases the dependence on external inputs. In this study, we aimed to identify the factors that are most limiting for the restoration of soil biota and their ecosystem services on sandy soils. To this end, we assessed microarthropod communities, their relationship with the aboveground food web and their effect on organic matter decomposition, in two land-use types: grasslands with agricultural land use and grasslands with nature land use. The latter are grasslands converted from agricultural land use, for the development of the Dutch National Ecological Network. For these land-use types, we took into account two main factors of disturbance: the number of years since the last tillage (i.e., plowing event), and the current grassland management (mowing or grazing). We found that the diversity of microarthropods was higher in nature grasslands than in agricultural grasslands. The abundance of microarthropods increased with time since last tillage for grasslands that were mown, but not for grasslands that were grazed. An agricultural grassland without tillage since 39 years had a microarthropod abundance similar to reference natural grasslands reported in previous research. The number of predatory beetles increased with a higher microarthropod abundance in mown grasslands, but not so in grazed grasslands. The number of fungivorous and herbofungivorous grazer microarthropods positively influenced the decomposition of soil organic matter as measured with the Tea Bag Index. Furthermore, we found a negative effect of Difenyl and total fungicide concentrations in the soil on (herbo)fungivorous grazers. Contrary to our expectations, we found more pesticide residues in nature grasslands than in agricultural grasslands. In conclusion, to restore the soil microarthropods and the ecosystem services they contribute to, the best practice is to strive for permanent grassland (without tillage) with mowing or low-intensity grazing (without compaction of the topsoil).

Original languageEnglish
Article number107682
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Disturbance effects
  • Food web interactions
  • Nature restoration
  • Pesticide residues
  • Regenerative agriculture
  • Tillage
  • national
  • Plan_S-Compliant-OA


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