The biodiversity effect of reduced tillage on soil microbiota

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The conversion of natural habitats into farmland has been a leading cause of species loss worldwide. Here, we investigated to what extent less intensive soil disturbance can mitigate this loss. Specifically, we examined whether reduced soil disturbance by tillage in agricultural fields could contribute to soil microbial biodiversity by providing a habitat for species that are limited by conventional tillage. To do so, we studied the diversity of soil biotas from three agricultural practices representing conventional tillage, reduced tillage and no tillage. Study fields were sampled by taking a bulk soil sample at the centre and edge of each field. The soil communities were recorded with environmental DNA metabarcoding using three molecular markers targeting bacteria, fungi and eukaryotes. While these three markers represent the vast majority of biotic variation in the soil, they will inevitably be dominated by the megadiverse microbiota of bacteria, microfungi and protists. We found a significant differentiation in community composition related to the intensity of tillage. Richness was weakly correlated to tillage, and more influenced by whether the sample was taken in the center or the edge of the field. Despite the significant effect of tillage on composition, comparisons with natural ecosystems revealed that all 30 study fields were much more similar in composition to other rotational fields than to more natural habitats, oldfields and leys. Despite a slightly higher similarity to oldfields and semi-natural grasslands, the contribution of no-till soil communities to biodiversity conservation is negligible, and our results indicate that restoration on set aside land may contribute more to conservation.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)1022-1033
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

    Research areas

  • Agroecosystems, Biodiversity conservation, Metabarcoding, Soil biota

ID: 279623135