Soil fauna feeding activity in temperate grassland soils increases with legume and grass species richness

Klaus Birkhofer, Tim Diekötter, Steffen Boch, Markus Fischer, Jörg Müller, Stephanie Socher, Volkmar Wolters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Citations (SciVal)


Edaphic fauna contributes to important ecosystem functions in grassland soils such as decomposition and nutrient mineralization. Since this functional role is likely to be altered by global change and associated shifts in plant communities, a thorough understanding of large scale drivers on below-ground processes independent of regional differences in soil type or climate is essential. We investigated the relationship between abiotic (soil properties, management practices) and biotic (plant functional group
composition, vegetation characteristics, soil fauna abundance) predictors and feeding activity of soil fauna after accounting for sample year and study region. Our study was carried out over a period of two consecutive years in 92 agricultural grasslands in three regions of Germany, spanning a latitudinal gradient of more than 500 km. A structural equation model suggests that feeding activity of soil fauna as measured by the bait-lamina test was positively related to legume and grass species richness in both years. Most probably, a diverse vegetation promotes feeding activity of soil fauna via alterations of both microclimate and resource availability. Feeding activity of soil fauna also increased with earthworm biomass via a pathway over Collembola abundance. The effect of earthworms on the feeding activity in soil may be attributed to their important role as ecosystem engineers. As no additional effects of agricultural
management such as fertilization, livestock density or number of cuts on bait consumption were observed, our results suggest that the positive effect of legume and grass species richness on the feeding
activity in soil fauna is a general one that will not be overruled by regional differences in management or environmental conditions. We thus suggest that agri-environment schemes aiming at the protection of
belowground activity and associated ecosystem functions in temperate grasslands may generally focus on maintaining plant diversity, especially with regard to the potential effects of climate change on future vegetation structure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2200-2207
JournalSoil Biology & Biochemistry
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Ecology


  • Above-below ground interactions
  • Bait lamina
  • Biodiversity ecosystem function research
  • Decomposition
  • Plant functional groups
  • Soil fauna
  • Spatial scale


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