Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Land-use and land-management change: relationships with earthworm and fungi communities and soil structural properties

David J Spurgeon1*, Aidan M Keith2, Olaf Schmidt3, Dennis R Lammertsma4 and Jack H Faber4

  • * Corresponding author: David J Spurgeon

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Maclean Building, Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford, Oxon OX10 8BB, UK

2 Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Library Avenue, Bailrigg, Lancaster LA1 4AP, UK

3 UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Belfield, Ireland

4 Alterra, Wageningen University and Research Centre, P.O. Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, Netherlands

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BMC Ecology 2013, 13:46  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-13-46

Published: 1 December 2013



Change in land use and management can impact massively on soil ecosystems. Ecosystem engineers and other functional biodiversity in soils can be influenced directly by such change and this in turn can affect key soil functions. Here, we employ meta-analysis to provide a quantitative assessment of the effects of changes in land use and land management across a range of successional/extensification transitions (conventional arable → no or reduced tillage → grassland → wooded land) on community metrics for two functionally important soil taxa, earthworms and fungi. An analysis of the relationships between community change and soil structural properties was also included.


Meta-analysis highlighted a consistent trend of increased earthworm and fungal community abundances and complexity following transitions to lower intensity and later successional land uses. The greatest changes were seen for early stage transitions, such as introduction of reduced tillage regimes and conversion to grassland from arable land. Not all changes, however, result in positive effects on the assessed community metrics. For example, whether woodland conversion positively or negatively affects community size and complexity depends on woodland type and, potentially, the changes in soil properties, such as pH, that may occur during conversion. Alterations in soil communities tended to facilitate subsequent changes in soil structure and hydrology. For example, increasing earthworm abundances and functional group composition were shown to be positively correlated with water infiltration rate (dependent on tillage regime and habitat characteristics); while positive changes in fungal biomass measures were positively associated with soil microaggregate stability.


These findings raise the potential to manage landscapes to increase ecosystem service provision from soil biota in relation to regulation of soil structure and water flow.

Meta analysis; Earthworm; Fungi; Functional biodiversity; Soil porosity; Microaggregate stability