Summary Soil core samples were taken from May 1996 to October 1996 at four week intervals to assess the longterm effects of compaction due to soil tillage on Collembola in arable land. Two different tillage systems were studied: conservation tillage (CS) with rotary harrowing to 120 mm depth and conventional tillage (CT) with a mould board plough to 300 mm depth. Soil compaction was achieved by wheeling with graded loads: 0t, 2 × 2.5t and 6 × 5.0t (wheeling frequency × wheel load) in early spring 1995. Litter decomposition rate was investigated by the minicontainer-method, using two different mesh-sizes: 20 μm (excluding mesofauna) and 500 μ (including mesofauna). The substrate used was winter wheat straw, corresponding to the crop cultivated on the field. We recorded 25 species of Collembola. The abundance of Collembola during the growing season was at a minimum in June in both tillage systems. Thereafter, numbers of individuals increased, probably due to better nutrition. Mesaphorura krausbaueri s.l. was eudominant in CS. In CT Folsomia fimetaria and M. krausbaueri s.l. reached high abundances at the end of August. Harvesting and tilling supported population growth in CS, while numbers in CT decreased. The collembolan species showed different preferences in regard to the tillage system and the grade of compaction. During the first 4 weeks of exposure the decomposition rate of straw was highest. The decomposition rate in the minicontainers with 20 μm mesh-size was higher due to better moisture conditions for the microorganisms. After harvest and tilling the decomposition rate increased, especially in the CS-plots, because of aeration and incorporation of residues. Population fluctuation in the minicontainers was caused by migration of Collembola in response to changing moisture conditions. The main species in the minicontainers were large and mobile. Compared to the surrounding soil, species diversity was reduced.