Pesticides are applied in large quantities to agroecosystems worldwide. To date, few studies assessed the occurrence of pesticides in organically managed agricultural soils, and it is unresolved whether these pesticide residues affect soil life. We screened 100 fields under organic and conventional management with an analytical method containing 46 pesticides (16 herbicides, 8 herbicide transformation products, 17 fungicides, seven insecticides). Pesticides were found in all sites, including 40 organic fields. The number of pesticide residues was two times and the concentration nine times higher in conventional compared to organic fields. Pesticide number and concentrations significantly decreased with the duration of organic management. Even after 20 years of organic agriculture, up to 16 different pesticide residues were present. Microbial biomass and specifically the abundance of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, a widespread group of beneficial plant symbionts, were significantly negatively linked to the amount of pesticide residues in soil. This indicates that pesticide residues, in addition to abiotic factors such as pH, are a key factor determining microbial soil life in agroecosystems. This comprehensive study demonstrates that pesticides are a hidden reality in agricultural soils, and our results suggest that they have harmful effects on beneficial soil life.
Keywords: Multiresidue analysis; environmental impact; fungicides; herbicides; insecticides; no tillage; organic farming; soil ecology.