Soil ecology and ecosystem services of dairy and semi-natural grasslands on peat

Joachim G.C. Deru*, Jaap Bloem, Ron de Goede, Harm Keidel, Henk Kloen, Michiel Rutgers, Jan van den Akker, Lijbert Brussaard, Nick van Eekeren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Peat wetlands are of major importance for ecosystem services such as carbon storage, water regulation and maintenance of biodiversity. However, peat drainage for farming leads to CO2 emission, soil subsidence and biodiversity losses. In the peat areas in the Netherlands, solutions are sought in reducing drainage, adapting farming to wetter soils, and converting productive dairy grasslands to less intensively managed semi-natural grasslands. Our objective was to compare the soil ecology and related ecosystem services of dairy and semi-natural grasslands on peat soils (Terric Histosols). Soil biotic and abiotic parameters were measured in twenty dairy and twenty semi-natural sites, with particular focus on (i) soil faunal diversity (ecosystem service "maintenance of biodiversity"), (ii) CO2 emission ("climate regulation"), (iii) water infiltration ("water regulation") and (iv) soil fertility ("grass production"). Mean soil faunal taxonomic richness per site (alpha diversity) was higher in dairy grasslands compared to semi-natural grasslands. However, the total observed number of taxa (gamma diversity) in dairy grassland was 13% lower for soil fauna and 21% lower when including plant species. Potential C mineralization rate in the topsoil - used as a proxy for CO2 emission - was not influenced by land use but was limited by drought. Additionally, potential C mineralization depended on different C sources and microbial groups in the two grassland types. Water infiltration rate differed by a factor of five between land use types (dairy > semi-natural), and correlated with soil porosity. As expected, soil fertility was higher in dairy than in semi-natural grasslands. However, potential N mineralization was similar in dairy and semi-natural grasslands and was correlated negatively with bacterial biomass apparently indicating N immobilization, and positively with bacterial growth that depended on labile C and N in soil. Our study on peat soils shows that dairy versus semi-natural grassland use influences biodiversity, climate regulation, water regulation and (potential for) grassland production. We conclude with recommendations for land management to optimize the delivery of those ecosystem services.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-34
JournalApplied Soil Ecology
Early online date21 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


  • Biodiversity
  • C mineralization
  • Grassland
  • Histosols
  • N mineralization
  • Water infiltration


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