Two key determinants of biological diversity that have been examined in aboveground and aquatic systems are productivity, or resource supply, and physical disturbance. In this study, we examined how these factors interact under field conditions to determine belowground diversity using microarthropods (mites and Collembola) as our test community. To do this, we established a field manipulation experiment consisting of crossed, continuous gradients of nitrogenous (N) fertilizer addition (up to 240 kg N ha-1) and disturbance (imitated trampling by cattle) to produce a gradient of soil nutrient availability and disturbance. Due to the relatively short-term nature of our study (i.e. 2 years), we only detected minimal changes in plant diversity due to the experimental manipulations; in the longer term we would expect to detect changes in plant diversity that could potentially impact on soil fauna. However, disturbance reduced, and additions of N increased, aboveground biomass, reflecting the potential effects of these manipulations on resource availability for soil fauna. We found that disturbance strongly reduced the abundance, diversity, and species richness of oribatid mites and Collembola, but had little effect on predatory mites (Mesostigmata). In contrast, N addition, and therefore resource availability, had little effect on microarthropod community structure, but did increase mesostigmatan mite richness and collembolan abundance at high levels of disturbance. Oribatid community structure was mostly influenced by disturbance, whereas collembolan and mesostigmatan diversity were responsive to N addition, suggesting bottom-up control. That maximal species richness of microarthropod groups overall occurred in undisturbed plots, suggests that the microarthropod community was negatively affected by disturbance. We found no change in microarthropod species richness with high N additions, where plant productivity was greatest, indicating that soil biotic communities are unlikely to be strongly regulated by competition. We conclude that the diversity of soil animals is best explained as a combination of their many varied life history tactics, phenology and the heterogeneity of soils that enable so many species to co-exist. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.