Functional shifts of grassland soil communities in response to soil warming

Briones, Maria Jesus Iglesias; Ostle, Nicholas J.; McNamara, Niall P.; Poskitt, Jan. 2009 Functional shifts of grassland soil communities in response to soil warming. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 41 (2). 315-322.

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In terrestrial ecosystems most carbon (C) occurs below-ground, making the activity of soil decomposer organisms critical to the global carbon cycle. Temperate grassland ecosystems, contain large, diverse and active soil meso- and macrofauna decomposer communities. Understanding the effects of climate change on their ecology offers a first step towards meaningful predictions of changes in soil organic carbon mineralisation. We examined the effects of soil warming on the abundance, diversity and ecology of temperate grassland soil fauna functional groups, ecosystem net CO2 flux and respiration and plant above- and below-ground productivity in a 2-year plant–soil mesocosm experiment. Low voltage heating cable mounted on a framework of stainless steel mesh provided a constant 3.5 °C difference between control and warmed mesocosm soils. Results showed that this temperature increment had little effect on soil respiration and above-ground plant biomass. There was, however, a significant effect on the soil fauna due to warmer conditions and increased root growth, with significant decreases in the numbers in the large oligochaete groups and Prostigmata mites and the re-distribution of enchytraeids to deeper soil layers. Functional groups exhibited individualistic responses to soil warming, with the total disappearance of epigeic species in the case of the ecosystem engineers and an increased diversity of fungivorous mites that, together, produced significant changes in the composition and trophic structure of the fauna community. The observed switch towards a fungal driven food web has important implications for the fate of soil organic carbon in temperate ecosystems subjected to sustained warming. Accordingly, soil biology needs to be properly incorporated in C models to make better predictions of the fate of SOC under warmer scenarios.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Programmes pre-2009 publications > Biogeochemistry > BG01 Measuring and modelling trace gas, aerosol and carbon > BG01.2 Carbon
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Shore
ISSN: 0038-0717
Additional Keywords: Community structure, SOC, Soil invertebrates, SOM, Trophic food webs
NORA Subject Terms: Agriculture and Soil Science
Biology and Microbiology
Ecology and Environment
Earth Sciences
Date made live: 02 Mar 2009 13:18 +0 (UTC)

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