Diversity of soil mite communities when managing plant communities on set-aside arable land
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When restoring former agricultural land to more low-nutrient input ecosystems, the establishment of a plant community can be enhanced by sowing desirable species. In this study our aim was to determine whether management of the plant community influences the microarthropod community. We carried out a field experiment in three European countries on set-aside arable land and determined soil mites from the sites in Sweden, The Netherlands and Spain. Experimental plots on set-aside arable land were sown with high (15 species) or low (4 species) plant species seed mixtures; other plots were colonized naturally. A field with continued agricultural practices and a later successional site (target site) were used for comparison with the experimental plots. Soil from the later successional site was inoculated into half of the plots. Abandoning agricultural practices increased the density of mites at one site while the number of mite species was not affected. Sowing plant seeds had no effect on mite densities at any of the sites. The community composition of mites changed in response to management of the plant community, as shown by canonical correspondence analysis. Among the functional groups of mites, saprophytes generally dominated on all plots at all sites. Mites parasitic on insects were not present on fields with continued agricultural practice in Sweden and The Netherlands, and might thus be regarded as an indicator of an increase in trophic complexity in the sown and naturally colonized treatments. Predatory and plant parasitic mites showed no consistent pattern in relation to the treatments of the three sites. Soil inoculation treatment had only a minor impact on the soil mite communities.