As farm machinery has become heavier, concern has grown about its direct effects on soil physical conditions and its indirect effects on crop yields and soil biota. To study the relationships between these parameters, non-grazed temporary grassland plots on a loamy sand soil were subjected to full-width load traffic with widely different loads (0, 4.5, 8.5 and 14.5t) one to four times per year for a period of 5 years. Soil bulk density was monitored as an indicator of soil compaction. Grass yield was measured throughout the experimental period. Root distribution over the soil profile and nematodes populations were assessed during the final year of the experiment. Results indicate that a moderate degree of compaction (~4.5t load) gave the highest crop yield and that at higher degrees of compaction roots failed to penetrate into the deeper soil layers (>20cm depth). Total numbers of nematodes were not affected by compaction, but their distribution over the various feeding types shifted towards a population with increased numbers of herbivores and decreased numbers of bacterivores and omnivores/predators. This change in the structure of the nematode assemblage is associated with poorer conditions for crop growth.
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