Although direct contributions of soil invertebrates to carbon turnover are modest, they have a disproportionally large indirect impact through their control over the activity of microbial decomposers. Shifts in soil invertebrate species distribution might have a substantial effect on the decomposition process because their functional role depends on the species' vertical position in soils. Gradients in microclimate and substrate quality and structure largely determine the vertical position of soil invertebrates. Because of the possible impact of climate change on soil invertebrate distribution, and consequently on decomposition, it is important to know the relative contributions of microclimate and substrate quality to the vertical distribution patterns of soil invertebrates. We studied this for springtails (Collembola) as a keystone group in cool and cold biomes, by turning peat cores in a subarctic blanket bog upside down, thereby reversing the substrate quality gradient and leaving temperature and moisture gradients intact. Two opposing groups of springtail species could be distinguished with respect to their abundance responses along the vertical gradient: (i) species that remain associated with the stratum they were originally found in ('stayers') and (ii) species that re-establish the original stratification pattern, by remigration either to the top or deeper layers, irrespective of any substrate quality change ('movers'). Within the 'mover' response pattern, the direction of their migration in response to microclimate changes seemed to coincide with their ecomorphological traits. Our results not only demonstrate that springtail species differ in their responses to changes in climate or substrate quality; they also suggest that interspecific faunal trait variation may provide a useful tool to predict animal responses to climatic changes. © 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2010 British Ecological Society.