Abstract The ecosystem services that humans obtain from the soil are strongly linked to the soil's biota. There is ample evidence that intensive agriculture has a negative effect on the soil's biological diversity. While in other ecosystems, habitat specialists are at a higher risk of extinction due to human impacts than generalists, we have no evidence of whether this holds true for soil biota. We calculated the realized niche width for soil nematodes using co-occurrence data. We compared these with ecological traits. We then calculated an index of community specialization and tested whether land use intensity leads to decreases in the index of community specialization, taxon richness, diversity and to changes in nematode abundance. The resulting realized niche widths did not correlate with ecological traits such as feeding group, body mass or c-p class. While it is possible that there are no relationships between these traits and the realized niche width, it is likelier that food availability, pH tolerance, or host breadth are more important factors in explaining niche width. Contrary to our expectations, the lowest community specialization levels were found in soils with the lowest human intervention (shrubland?woodland ecosystems), while grasslands, dairy farms and arable farms had an overall higher level of specialization. Weather variables and land use intensity explained 66% of the variation in the index of community specialization in sandy soils. We found highest richness and diversity at intermediate levels of disturbance (grasslands and dairy farms). The lowest abundances were found on shrubland?woodland systems. Dairy farms on sand and clay had similar indices of community specialization, whereas peaty soils fostered a higher proportion of habitat specialists. We argue that farmland supposes a stable environment for organisms with shorter life spans. Agricultural management strives to lower disturbances, allowing shorter lived organisms to escape pressures otherwise present in nature, such as drought or nutrient deficiencies during the growing season. In very disturbed systems, however, specialists may also suffer from negative effects of land use intensity. This co-occurrence method to assess niche width opens the door to estimating the soil community's niche breadth, for which resource-based methods are difficult to implement. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article.
- generalist species
- index of community specialization
- nematode community
- realized niche width
- specialist species
- ffects of land use intensity
- Fridley's co-occurrence method