Arthropod abundance has been hypothesized to be correlated with plant diversity but the results of previous studies have been equivocal. In contrast, plant productivity, vegetation structure, abiotic site conditions, and the physical disturbance of habitats, are factors that interact with plant diversity, and that have been shown to influence arthropod abundance. We studied the combined effect of plant species diversity, productivity and site characteristics on arthropod abundance in 71 managed grasslands in central Germany using multivariate statistics. For each site we determined plant species cover, plant community biomass (productivity), macro- and micronutrients in the soil, and characterized the location of sites with respect to orographic parameters as well as the current and historic management regimes. Arthropods were sampled using a suction sampler and classified a priori into functional groups (FGs). We found that arthropod abundance was not correlated with plant species richness, effective diversity or Camargo's evenness, even when influences of environmental variables were taken into account. In contrast, plant community composition was highly correlated with arthropod abundances. Plant community productivity influenced arthropod abundance but explained only a small proportion of the variance. The abundances of the different arthropod FGs were influenced differentially by agricultural management, soil characteristics, vegetation structure and by interactions between different FGs of arthropods. Herbivores, carnivores and detritivores reacted differently to variation in environmental variables in a manner consistent with their feeding mode. Our results show that in natural grassland systems arthropod abundance is not a simple function of plant species richness, and they emphasize the important role of plant community composition for the abundance patterns of the arthropod assemblages.