Land conversion to agriculture is a significant pathway to biodiversity loss and a major global concern. Soil invertebrate communities provide vital ecosystem functions and services that help support all terrestrial life on Earth, yet there is a paucity of existing information available on how soil communities respond to agricultural intensification and extensification. Thus, the purpose of this study was to compare community composition of five major microarthropod functional groups between disturbed former arable soil and adjacent ancient forest soil. Arable fields at our study site in Doddington, Lincoln went into nature recovery in 2019 and 2020, giving us a unique opportunity to assess how communities have changed with land use and time. We extracted microarthropods from composite soil samples from a maximum depth of 20 cm using a tulgren funnel extraction method. Field soil had lower microarthropod abundance (p = <0.001), functional diversity (p = 0.025) and richness (mean 1.73 SD 1.16). Abundance was highest around the land use boundary in both habitats (p = <0.001), and there was a linear decline in abundance every meter from the boundary (log -0.01). Principal coordinate analysis explained 63% of the total variance, with 40% of the data along the main axis being significantly affected by land use type (p = 0.045). Field soils tended to have higher numbers of Collembola, Prostigmata, and Astigmata. Soil type had no effect on communities in a subset of data, and we detected no effect of time on field soils community metrics, suggesting little to no recovery had taken place. In the narrow spatiotemporal range of our study, our results demonstrate that agriculture negatively affects belowground microarthropod community composition, providing circumstantial evidence for reductions in soil ecosystem functionality and soil health. The data may act as a baseline for future repeat studies and investigations into the efficacy of passive management on the ecological succession of soil microarthropod communities.
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