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Institute of

BD Biodiversity


Functional relevance of soil fauna

The earthworm species Lumbricus terrestris feeds on organic residues at the soil surface
© Thünen-Institut/Friederike Wolfarth
The earthworm species Lumbricus terrestris feeds on organic residues at the soil surface

Functional relevance of soil fauna in agroecosystems

Various key stone species of soil fauna are often called ecosystem engineers and others are called decomposers. Such terms emphasise their functional importance in the soil environment. Depending on behaviour and adaptations, soil fauna delivers essential ecosystem services in soils under land use.

Background and Objective

Various groups of soil fauna generate soil structure which has a controlling function on soil processes like transport processes. Or they fulfil key functions in the network of transformation and turnover of organic matter. Members of the soil fauna are also important within the C and N cycles. Their role may be directly as primary or secondary decomposers like earthworm species or they operate more indirectly as catalysts of microbial activity like many collembolan species. Nematodes for instance control many knots of soil food-webs due to highly specialised species on certain food sources. Our aim is to identify, to quantify and to assess ecosystem services delivered by soil fauna with respect to different agricultural management measures under different land use systems.

Target Group

We disseminate our scientific output to the science community, to farmers and advisors as well as policy makers and the wider public.


Field studies and additional laboratory experiments has been conducted covering the following subjects: genesis, structure and function of biogenic macropore systems, physicochemical properties of cast aggregates, dynamic of organic matter in the food-web, mechanisms of ecotoxicological effects, soil fauna interactions with microorganisms and the soil matrix.

Preliminary Results

Our results on the functional relevance of soil fauna are published in various journals, book chapters and brochures covering the following subjects: soil structure, soil-borne pathogens, harmful substances, decomposition of crop residues, soil tillage, soil compaction, soil protection. In the long-term, arable soils may fulfil their productivity only in case their function as living space is maintained and improved.


Permanent task 8.2003 - 12.2028

More Information

Project status: ongoing


  1. 0

    Jacobs A, Schrader S, Babin D, Beylich A, Brunotte J, Dauber J, Emmerling C, Engell I, Flessa H, Hallmann J, Hommel B, Klages S, Lehmhus J, Meyer M, Meyer-Wolfarth F, Potthoff M, Runge T, Schulz-Kesting K, Tebbe CC, Capelle C van, et al (2022) Lebendige Böden - fruchtbare Böden. Bonn: Bundesanstalt für Landwirtschaft und Ernährung, 48 p

  2. 1

    Horn R, Schrader S, Mordhorst A, Fleige H, Schroeder R (2022) Soil health and biodiversity: Interactions with physical processes and functions [online]. In: Reyes-Sánchez LB, Horn R, Costantini EAC (eds) Sustainable soil management as a key to preserve soil biodiversity and stop its degradation. Vienna: International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS), pp 314-330, zu finden in < > [zitiert am 27.06.2022]

  3. 2

    Capelle C van, Meyer-Wolfarth F, Meiners T, Schrader S (2021) Lumbricus terrestris regulating the ecosystem service/disservice balance in maize (Zea mays) cultivation. Plant Soil 462:459-475, DOI:10.1007/s11104-021-04882-4

  4. 3

    Schrader S, Capelle C van, Meyer-Wolfarth F (2020) Regenwürmer als Partner bei der Bodennutzung : Die Servicekräfte des Bodens. Biol Unserer Zeit 50(3):192-198, DOI:10.1002/biuz. 202010706

  5. 4

    Schorpp Q, Schrader S (2017) Dynamic of nematode communities in energy plant cropping systems. Eur J Soil Biol 78(1):92-101, DOI:10.1016/j.ejsobi.2016.12.002

  6. 5

    Schorpp Q, Müller AL, Schrader S, Dauber J (2016) Agrarökologisches Potential der Durchwachsenen Silphie (Silphium perfoliatum L.) aus Sicht biologischer Vielfalt. J Kulturpfl 68(12):412-422, DOI:10.1399/jfk.2016.12.12

  7. 6

    Schrader S (2016) Bodeninvertebraten sind entscheidende ökologische Leistungsträger. Agrobiodiversität 39:67-80

  8. 7

    Schorpp Q, Schrader S (2016) Earthworm functional groups respond to the perennial energy cropping system of the cup plant (Silphium perfoliatumL.). Biomass Bioenergy 87:61-68, DOI:10.1016/j.biombioe.2016.02.009

  9. 8

    Wolfarth F, Schrader S, Oldenburg E, Brunotte J (2016) Mycotoxin contamination and its regulation by the earthworm species Lumbricus terrestris in presence of other soil fauna in an agroecosystem. Plant Soil 402(1-2):331-342, DOI:10.1007/s11104-015-2772-2

  10. 9

    Moos JH, Schrader S, Paulsen HM, Rahmann G (2016) Occasional reduced tillage in organic farming can promote earthworm performance and resource efficiency. Appl Soil Ecol 103:22-30, DOI:10.1016/j.apsoil.2016.01.017

  11. 10

    Schmidt O, Dyckmans J, Schrader S (2016) Photoautotrophic microorganisms as a carbon source for temperate soil invertebrates. Biol Lett 12:Art. 20150646, DOI:10.1098/rsbl.2015.0646

  12. 11

    Wolfarth F, Wedekind S, Schrader S, Oldenburg E, Brunotte J (2015) Regulation of the mycotoxin deoxynivalenol by Folsomia candida (Collembola) and Aphelenchoides saprophilus (Nematoda) in an on-farm experiment. Pedobiologia 58(1):41-47, DOI:10.1016/j.pedobi.2015.01.003

  13. 12

    Rogasik H, Schrader S, Onasch I, Kiesel J, Gerke HH (2014) Micro-scale dry bulk density variation around earthworm (Lumbricus terrestris L.) burrows based on X-ray computed tomography. Geoderma 213:471-477

  14. 13

    Schrader S, Wolfarth F, Oldenburg E (2013) Biological control of soil-borne phytopathogenic fungi and their mycotoxins by soil fauna – A review. Bull Univ Agric Sci Vet Med Cluj Napoca Agric 70(2):291-298

  15. 14

    Wolfarth F, Schrader S, Oldenburg E, Weinert J (2013) Nematode-collembolan-interaction promotes the degradation of Fusarium biomass and deoxynivalenol according to soil texture. Soil Biol Biochem 57:903-910, DOI:10.1016/j.soilbio.2012.11.001

  16. 15

    Sandor M, Schrader S (2012) Interaction of earthworms and enchytraeids in organically amended soil. North Western J Zool 8(1):46-56

  17. 16

    Schrader S, Schmelz RM (eds) (2012) Newsletter on Enchytraeidae No. 12 : Proceedings of the 9th International Symposium on Enchytraeidae, 14-16 July 2010, Braunschweig, Germany. Braunschweig: vTI, 102 p, Landbauforsch SH 357

  18. 17

    Capelle C van, Schrader S, Brunotte J (2012) Tillage-induced changes in the functional diversity of soil biota - a review with a focus on German data. Eur J Soil Biol 50:165-181, DOI:10.1016/j.ejsobi.2012.02.005

  19. 18

    Wolfarth F, Schrader S, Oldenburg E, Weinert J (2011) Contribution of the endogeic earthworm species Aporrectodea caliginosa to the degradation of deoxynivalenol and Fusarium biomass in wheat straw. Mycotoxin Res 27(3):215-220, doi:10.1007/s12550-011-0098-3

  20. 19

    Wolfarth F, Schrader S, Oldenburg E, Weinert J, Brunotte J (2011) Earthworms promote the reduction of Fusarium biomass and deoxynivalenol content in wheat straw under field conditions. Soil Biol Biochem 43(9):1858-1865, DOI:10.1016/j.soilbio.2011.05.002

  21. 20

    Emmerling C, Strunk H, Schöbinger U, Schrader S (2011) Fragmentation of Cry1Ab protein from Bt-maize (MON810) through the gut of the earthworm species Lumbricus terrestris L.. Eur J Soil Biol 47(2):160-164, DOI:10.1016/j.ejsobi.2010.12.003

  22. 21

    Beylich A, Oberholzer H-R, Schrader S, Höper H, Wilke BM (2010) Evaluation of soil compaction effects on soil biota and soil biological processes in soils. Soil Tillage Res 109(2):133-143, DOI:10.1016/j.still.2010.05.010

  23. 22

    Schrader S, Münchenberg T, Baumgarte S, Tebbe CC (2008) Earthworms of different functional groups affect the fate of the Bt-toxin Cry1Ab from transgenic maize in soil. Eur J Soil Biol 44(3):283-289, DOI:10.1016/j.ejsobi.2008.04.003

  24. 23

    Oldenburg E, Kramer S, Schrader S, Weinert J (2008) Impact of the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris on the degradation of Fusarium-infected and deoxynivalenol-contaminated wheat straw. Soil Biol Biochem 40(12):3049-3053, DOI:10.1016/j.soilbio.2008.09.004

  25. 24

    Schrader S, Rogasik H, Onasch I, Jégou D (2007) Assessment of soil structural differentiation around earthworm burrows by means of X-ray computed tomography and scanning electron microscopy. Geoderma 137(3-4):378-387, DOI:10.1016/j.geoderma.2006.08.030

  26. 25

    Heise J, Höltge S, Schrader S, Kreuzig R (2006) Chemical and biological characterization of non-extractable sulfonamide residues in soil. Chemosphere 65:2352-2357, DOI:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2006.04.084

  27. 26

    Heise J, Heimbach U, Schrader S (2005) Influence of soil organic carbon on acute and chronic toxicity of plant protection products to Poecilus cupreus (Coleoptera, Carabidae) Larvae. J Soils Sediments 5(3):139-142, DOI:10.1065/jss2004.10.118

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