Researchers discovered that the biomass of small animals that decompose plants in the soil is declining as a result of climate change and over-intensive cultivation.

Scientists from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research Halle-Jena-Leipzig discovered the effect happens in two ways: climate change reduced the body size in organisms and cultivation reduces their frequency.

For example, when a meadow is turned into a field, soil animals find fewer niches and food resources. Use of pesticides and large amounts of fertilizer, intensive ploughing, mowing or grazing all have a negative effect.

A team led by Martin Schadler and doctoral student Rui Yin investigated the effects of climate change and intensive cultivation in coordination with the Global Change Experimental Facility in Bad Lauchstadt near Halle. During their experiments, they try to stimulate the climate of the future on arable and grassland plots with varying degrees of intensity. They also recreate a scenario that could be typical for the region between 2070 and 2100.

The results of their study, which was published in the trade journal eLife, show that soil animals are likely to dwindle even further due to climate change.

“It is likely that not only smaller species will prevail, but also smaller individuals within the same species,” Martin Schadler said. “This creates new generations faster, but their remain smaller.”

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