Agricultural overproduction has led the European Union to encourage long-term abandonment of agricultural land and the adoption of management practices which enhance transition to semi-natural grassland or forest. This paper reports the results of a field study conducted in newly abandoned agricultural land where the development of the mycorrhizal community was investigated in response to manipulation of the above-ground vegetation. The field site consisted of plots where the plant diversity was managed by (1) sowing 15 plant species, (2) sowing four plant species, and (3) allowing plots to be naturally colonized by plants. The plant mixture contained grasses, legumes and forbs that were all expected to occur on the site following succession. Each of the low diversity replicates contained a different subset of the high diversity mixture, in order to avoid confounding diversity effects with sampling effects. A subset of these plots was inoculated with soil cores from a later successional stage and the experiment was arranged in a randomized block design. The catch plants, Fagus sylvatica, Picea abies and Plantago lanceolata, were planted in the experimental plots and the presence of ecto- or arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi on their roots was determined. The level of AM colonization of P. lanceolata and the ectomycorrhizal colonization of F. sylvatica was lower in the sown treatments with high and low plant diversity compared to areas that were naturally colonized by plants. The survival of catch plants of the tree species was also higher in the naturally colonized plots. Soil inoculations had no effect on either of the mycorrhizal types or the survival of catch plants. The establishment of non-introduced woody plant species was more successful in the naturally colonized treatments. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V All rights reserved.