Seed dressing with pesticides is widely used to protect crop seeds from pest insects and fungal diseases. While there is mounting evidence that especially neonicotinoid seed dressings detrimentally affect insect pollinators, surprisingly little is known on potential side effects on soil biota. We hypothesized that soil organisms would be particularly susceptible to pesticide seed dressings as they get in direct contact with these chemicals. Using microcosms with field soil we investigated, whether seeds treated either with neonicotinoid insecticides or fungicides influence the activity and interaction of earthworms, collembola, protozoa and microorganisms. The full-factorial design consisted of the factor Seed dressing (control vs. insecticide vs. fungicide), Earthworm (no earthworms vs. addition Lumbricus terrestris L.) and collembola (no collembola vs. addition Sinella curviseta Brook). We used commercially available wheat seed material (Triticum aesticum L. cf. Lukullus) at a recommended seeding density of 367 m−2.
Seed dressings (particularly fungicides) increased collembola surface activity, increased the number of protozoa and reduced plant decomposition rate but did not affect earthworm activity. Seed dressings had no influence on wheat growth. Earthworms interactively affected the influence of seed dressings on collembola activity, whereas collembola increased earthworm surface activity but reduced soil basal respiration. Earthworms also decreased wheat growth, reduced soil basal respiration and microbial biomass but increased soil water content and electrical conductivity.
The reported non-target effects of seed dressings and their interactions with soil organisms are remarkable because they were observed after a one-time application of only 18 pesticide treated seeds per experimental pot. Because of the increasing use of seed dressing in agriculture and the fundamental role of soil organisms in agroecosystems these ecological interactions should receive more attention.
Johann G. Zaller, Nina König, Alexandra Tiefenbacher, Yoko Muraoka, Pascal Querner, Andreas Ratzenböck, Michael Bonkowski and Robert Koller
© The Author(s) 2016