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Research article2017Peer reviewedOpen access

Single and Combined Effects of Pesticide Seed Dressings and Herbicides on Earthworms, Soil Microorganisms, and Litter Decomposition

Van Hoesel, Willem; Tiefenbacher, Alexandra; Koenig, Nina; Dorn, Verena M.; Hagenguth, Julia F.; Prah, Ursa; Widhalm, Theresia; Wiklicky, Viktoria; Koller, Robert; Bonkowski, Michael; Lagerloef, Jan; Ratzenboeck, Andreas; Zaller, Johann G.


Seed dressing, i.e., the treatment of crop seeds with insecticides and/or fungicides, aiming to protect seeds from pests and diseases, is widely used in conventional agriculture. During the growing season, those crop fields often receive additional broadband herbicide applications. However, despite this broad utilization, very little is known on potential side effects or interactions between these different pesticide classes on soil organisms. In a greenhouse pot experiment, we studied single and interactive effects of seed dressing of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L. var. Capo) with neonicotinoid insecticides and/or strobilurin and triazolinthione fungicides and an additional one-time application of a glyphosate-based herbicide on the activity of earthworms, soil microorganisms, litter decomposition, and crop growth. To further address food-web interactions, earthworms were introduced to half of the experimental units as an additional experimental factor. Seed dressings significantly reduced the surface activity of earthworms with no difference whether insecticides or fungicides were used. Moreover, seed dressing effects on earthworm activity were intensified by herbicides (significant herbicide x seed dressing interaction). Neither seed dressings nor herbicide application affected litter decomposition, soil basal respiration, microbial biomass, or specific respiration. Seed dressing did also not affect wheat growth. We conclude that interactive effects on soil biota and processes of different pesticide classes should receive more attention in ecotoxicological research.


agrochemicals; agroecology; neonicotinoids; non-target effects; pesticide; seed coatings; soil organisms; glyphosate-herbicide

Published in

Frontiers in Plant Science
2017, Volume: 8, article number: 215

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