The impact of agricultural practices on soil biota: a regional study

Abstract : A gradient of agricultural intensification (from permanent meadows to permanent crops, with rotation crops and meadows as intermediary steps) was studied in the course of the RMQS-Biodiv program, covering a regular grid of 109 sites spread over the whole area of French Brittany. Soil biota (earthworms, other macrofauna, microarthropods, nematodes, microorganisms) were sampled according to a standardized procedure, together with visual assessment of a Humus Index. We hypothesized that soil animal and microbial communities were increasingly disturbed along this gradient, resulting in decreasing species richness and decreasing abundance of most sensitive species groups. We also hypothesized that the application of organic matter could compensate for the negative effects of agricultural intensity by increasing the abundance of fauna relying directly on soil organic matter for their food requirements, i.e. saprophagous invertebrates. We show that studied animal and microbial groups, with the exception of epigeic springtails, are negatively affected by the intensity of agriculture, meadows and crops in rotation exhibiting features similar to their permanent counterparts. The latter result was interpreted as a rapid adaptation of soil biotic communities to periodic changes in land use provided the agricultural landscape remains stable. The application of pig and chicken slurry, of current practice in the study region, alone or in complement to mineral fertilization, proves to be favorable to saprophagous macrofauna and bacterivorous nematodes. A composite biotic index is proposed to synthesize our results, based on a selection of animals groups which responded the most to agricultural intensification or organic matter application: anecic earthworms, endogeic earthworms, macrofauna other than earthworms (macroarthropods and mollusks), saprophagous macrofauna other than earthworms (macroarthropods and mollusks), epigeic springtails, phytoparasitic nematodes, bacterivorous nematodes and microbial biomass. This composite index allowed scoring land uses and agricultural practices on the base of simple morphological traits of soil animals without identification at species level.
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Soil Biology and Biochemistry, Elsevier, 2013, 67, pp.271-284. <10.1016/j.soilbio.2013.08.026>
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Jean-François Ponge, Guénola Pérès, Muriel Guernion, Nuria Ruiz-Camacho, Jérôme Cortet, et al.. The impact of agricultural practices on soil biota: a regional study. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, Elsevier, 2013, 67, pp.271-284. <10.1016/j.soilbio.2013.08.026>. <hal-00869859>

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