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Concept: Soil life


Very few principles have been unraveled that explain the relationship between soil properties and soil biota across large spatial scales and different land-use types. Here, we seek these general relationships using data from 52 differently managed grassland and forest soils in three study regions spanning a latitudinal gradient in Germany. We hypothesize that, after extraction of variation that is explained by location and land-use type, soil properties still explain significant proportions of variation in the abundance and diversity of soil biota. If the relationships between predictors and soil organisms were analyzed individually for each predictor group, soil properties explained the highest amount of variation in soil biota abundance and diversity, followed by land-use type and sampling location. After extraction of variation that originated from location or land-use, abiotic soil properties explained significant amounts of variation in fungal, meso- and macrofauna, but not in yeast or bacterial biomass or diversity. Nitrate or nitrogen concentration and fungal biomass were positively related, but nitrate concentration was negatively related to the abundances of Collembola and mites and to the myriapod species richness across a range of forest and grassland soils. The species richness of earthworms was positively correlated with clay content of soils independent of sample location and land-use type. Our study indicates that after accounting for heterogeneity resulting from large scale differences among sampling locations and land-use types, soil properties still explain significant proportions of variation in fungal and soil fauna abundance or diversity. However, soil biota was also related to processes that act at larger spatial scales and bacteria or soil yeasts only showed weak relationships to soil properties. We therefore argue that more general relationships between soil properties and soil biota can only be derived from future studies that consider larger spatial scales and different land-use types.

Concepts: Scientific method, Bacteria, Evolution, Yeast, Soil, Mycorrhiza, Humus, Soil life


Soil organisms have an important role in aboveground community dynamics and ecosystem functioning in terrestrial ecosystems. However, most studies have considered soil biota as a black box or focussed on specific groups, whereas little is known about entire soil networks. Here we show that during the course of nature restoration on abandoned arable land a compositional shift in soil biota, preceded by tightening of the belowground networks, corresponds with enhanced efficiency of carbon uptake. In mid- and long-term abandoned field soil, carbon uptake by fungi increases without an increase in fungal biomass or shift in bacterial-to-fungal ratio. The implication of our findings is that during nature restoration the efficiency of nutrient cycling and carbon uptake can increase by a shift in fungal composition and/or fungal activity. Therefore, we propose that relationships between soil food web structure and carbon cycling in soils need to be reconsidered.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Biodiversity, Life, Ecology, Soil, Ecosystem, Ecosystem ecology, Soil life


Intensive land use reduces the diversity and abundance of many soil biota, with consequences for the processes that they govern and the ecosystem services that these processes underpin. Relationships between soil biota and ecosystem processes have mostly been found in laboratory experiments and rarely are found in the field. Here, we quantified, across four countries of contrasting climatic and soil conditions in Europe, how differences in soil food web composition resulting from land use systems (intensive wheat rotation, extensive rotation, and permanent grassland) influence the functioning of soils and the ecosystem services that they deliver. Intensive wheat rotation consistently reduced the biomass of all components of the soil food web across all countries. Soil food web properties strongly and consistently predicted processes of C and N cycling across land use systems and geographic locations, and they were a better predictor of these processes than land use. Processes of carbon loss increased with soil food web properties that correlated with soil C content, such as earthworm biomass and fungal/bacterial energy channel ratio, and were greatest in permanent grassland. In contrast, processes of N cycling were explained by soil food web properties independent of land use, such as arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and bacterial channel biomass. Our quantification of the contribution of soil organisms to processes of C and N cycling across land use systems and geographic locations shows that soil biota need to be included in C and N cycling models and highlights the need to map and conserve soil biodiversity across the world.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Fungus, Ecology, Soil, Mycorrhiza, Ecosystem, Soil life, Soil biology


Pharmaceuticals can enter the soil environment when animal slurries and sewage sludge are applied to land as a fertiliser or during irrigation with contaminated water. These pharmaceuticals may then be taken up by soil organisms possibly resulting in toxic effects and/or exposure of organisms higher up the food chain. This study investigated the influence of soil properties on the uptake and depuration of pharmaceuticals (carbamazepine, diclofenac, fluoxetine and orlistat) in the earthworm Eisenia fetida. The uptake and accumulation of pharmaceuticals into E. fetida changed depending on soil type. Orlistat exhibited the highest pore water based bioconcentration factors (BCFs) and displayed the largest differences between soil types with BCFs ranging between 30.5 and 115.9. For carbamazepine, diclofenac and fluoxetine BCFs ranged between 1.1 and 1.6, 7.0 and 69.6 and 14.1 and 20.4 respectively. Additional analysis demonstrated that in certain treatments the presence of these chemicals in the soil matrices changed the soil pH over time, with a statistically significant pH difference to control samples. The internal pH of E. fetida also changed as a result of incubation in pharmaceutically spiked soil, in comparison to the control earthworms. These results demonstrate that a combination of soil properties and pharmaceutical physico-chemical properties are important in terms of predicting pharmaceutical uptake in terrestrial systems and that pharmaceuticals can modify soil and internal earthworm chemistry which may hold wider implications for risk assessment.

Concepts: Water, Animal, Earthworm, Lumbricidae, Soil life, Soil biology


Plant species richness and the presence of certain influential species (sampling effect) drive the stability and functionality of ecosystems as well as primary production and biomass of consumers. However, little is known about these floristic effects on richness and community composition of soil biota in forest habitats owing to methodological constraints. We developed a DNA metabarcoding approach to identify the major eukaryote groups directly from soil with roughly species-level resolution. Using this method, we examined the effects of tree diversity and individual tree species on soil microbial biomass and taxonomic richness of soil biota in two experimental study systems in Finland and Estonia and accounted for edaphic variables and spatial autocorrelation. Our analyses revealed that the effects of tree diversity and individual species on soil biota are largely context dependent. Multiple regression and structural equation modelling suggested that biomass, soil pH, nutrients and tree species directly affect richness of different taxonomic groups. The community composition of most soil organisms was strongly correlated due to similar response to environmental predictors rather than causal relationships. On a local scale, soil resources and tree species have stronger effect on diversity of soil biota than tree species richness per se.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 14 July 2015; doi:10.1038/ismej.2015.116.

Concepts: DNA, Organism, Life, Eukaryote, Species, Plant, Microorganism, Soil life


The study aims to establish a preliminary environmental assessment of a quinaldine-based LOHC system composed of hydrogen-lean, partially hydrogenated and fully hydrogenated forms. We examined their toxicity toward the soil bacteria Arthrobacter globiformis and the Collembola Folsomia candida in two exposure scenarios, with and without soil, to address differences in the bioavailability of the compounds. In both scenarios, no or only slight toxicity toward soil bacteria was observed at the highest test concentration (EC50 > 3397 µmol L-1 and > 4892 μmol kg-1 dry weight soil). The effects of the three quinaldines on F. candida in soil were similar, with EC50 values ranging from 2119 to 2559 μmol kg-1 dry weight soil based on nominal concentrations. Additionally, corrected pore-water-concentration-based EC50 values were calculated by equilibrium partitioning using soil/pore-water distribution coefficients. The tests without soil (simulating pore-water exposure) revealed higher toxicity, with LC50 values between 78.3 and 161.6 μmol L-1 and deformation of the protective cuticle. These results assign the compounds to the category “harmful to soil organisms”. Potential risks toward the soil environment of the test compounds are discussed on the basis of predicted no-effect concentrations.

Concepts: Bacteria, Organism, Hydrogen, Yeast, Concentration, Soil, Trans fat, Soil life


The importance of herbivore-plant and soil biota-plant interactions in terrestrial ecosystems is amply recognized, but the effects of aboveground herbivores on soil biota remain challenging to predict. To find global patterns in belowground responses to vertebrate herbivores, we performed a meta-analysis of studies that had measured abundance or activity of soil organisms inside and outside field exclosures (areas that excluded herbivores). Responses were often controlled by climate, ecosystem type, and dominant herbivore identity. Soil microfauna and especially root-feeding nematodes were negatively affected by herbivores in subarctic sites. In arid ecosystems, herbivore presence tended to reduce microbial biomass and nitrogen mineralization. Herbivores decreased soil respiration in subarctic ecosystems and increased it in temperate ecosystems, but had no net effect on microbial biomass or nitrogen mineralization in those ecosystems. Responses of soil fauna, microbial biomass, and nitrogen mineralization shifted from neutral to negative with increasing herbivore body size. Responses of animal decomposers tended to switch from negative to positive with increasing precipitation, but also differed among taxa, for instance Oribatida responded negatively to herbivores whereas Collembola did not. Our findings imply that losses and gains of aboveground herbivores will interact with climate and land use changes, inducing functional shifts in soil communities. To conceptualize the mechanisms behind our findings and link them with previous theoretical frameworks, we propose two complementary approaches to predict soil biological responses to vertebrate herbivores, one focused on an herbivore body size gradient, the other on a climate severity gradient. Major research gaps were revealed, with tropical biomes, protists, and soil macrofauna being especially overlooked. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Organism, Life, Animal, Climate, Soil, Ecosystem, Copyright, Soil life


1.The activity and spread of exotic earthworms often are spatially correlated with N deposition because both arise from human activities. Exotic earthworms, in turn, can also greatly affect soil abiotic and biotic properties, as well as related ecological processes. Previous studies showed, for example, that earthworms can counteract the detrimental effects of plant-feeding nematodes on plant growth. However, potential interactive effects of N deposition and exotic earthworms on ecosystems are poorly understood. 2.We explored the changes in density of plant-feeding nematodes in response to the presence of exotic earthworms, and whether these changes are altered by elevated N deposition in a two-factorial field mesocosm experiment at the Heshan National Field Research Station of Forest Ecosystem, in southern China. 3.Our results show that earthworm addition marginally significantly increased the density of exotic earthworms and significantly increased the mass of earthworm casts. The total density of plant-feeding nematodes was not significantly affected by exotic earthworms or N deposition. However, exotic earthworms tended to increase the density of plant-feeding nematode taxa that are less detrimental to plant growth (r-strategists), while they significantly reduced the density of more harmful plant-feeding nematodes (K-strategists). Importantly, these earthworm effects were restricted to the ambient N deposition treatment, and elevated N deposition cancelled out the earthworm effect. Although exotic earthworms and N deposition interactively altered foliar N:P ratio in the target tree species, this did not result in significant changes in shoot and root biomass in the short term. 4.Overall, our study indicates that N deposition can cancel out exotic earthworm-induced reductions in the density of harmful plant-feeding nematodes. These results suggest that anthropogenic N deposition can alter biotic interactions between exotic and native soil organisms with potential implications for ecosystem functioning. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Affect, Ecosystem, Annelid, Earthworm, Copyright, Soil life, Soil biology


Biosolids have well-documented crop and soil benefits similar to other sources of organic amendment, but there is environmental concern due to biosolids-associated pollutants. The present study investigated two field sites that had received biosolids at commercial-scale rates in parallel to associated field sections which were managed similarly but without receiving biosolids (controls). The investigated endpoints were abundance and diversity of soil organisms (nematodes, enchytraeids and earthworms) and soil fauna feeding activity as measured by the bait lamina assay. Repeated sampling of one of the field sites following the only biosolids application demonstrated an enrichment effect typical for organic amendments, which was mostly exhausted after 44months. After an initial suppression, the proportion of free-living plant-parasitic nematodes tended to increase in the biosolids-amended soil over time. Yet, none of the endpoints at this site indicated significant negative effects resulting from the biosolids until 44months post application. In contrast to the repeatedly tilled first field site, the second one was left fallow after three biosolids applications, and was sampled 96months post last application. It was only at this field site that potential evidence for a long-term impact of biosolids was detected with regard to two endpoints: earthworm abundance and structure of the nematode assemblage. Agricultural management and correlation with abiotic soil parameters explained the observed difference in earthworm abundance. Yet, the development of a highly structured and mature nematode assemblage at the control but not at the biosolids-amended section of this fallow field could not be explained by such correlations nor by soil metal concentrations. Overall, the present study found only weak evidence for negative long-term impacts of biosolids applied at commercial rates on soil fauna. High-level community parameters such as the nematode structure index (SI) appeared more suitable to detect deleterious effects on soil fauna than simple abundance measurements.

Concepts: Time, Agriculture, Annelid, Earthworm, Humus, Composting, Soil life, Soil biology


In 1998, a toxic mine spill polluted a 55-km(2) area in a basin southward to Doñana National Park (Spain). Subsequent attempts to restore those trace element-contaminated soils have involved physical, chemical, or biological methodologies. In this study, the restoration approach included application of different types and doses of organic amendments: biosolid compost (BC) and leonardite (LEO). Twelve years after the last addition, molecular analyses of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungal communities associated with target plants (Lamarckia aurea and Chrysanthemum coronarium) as well as analyses of trace element concentrations both in soil and in plants were performed. The results showed an improved soil quality reflected by an increase in soil pH and a decrease in trace element availability as a result of the amendments and dosages. Additionally, the phylogenetic diversity of the AM fungal community increased, reaching the maximum diversity at the highest dose of BC. Trace element concentration was considered the predominant soil factor determining the AM fungal community composition. Thereby, the studied AM fungal community reflects a community adapted to different levels of contamination as a result of the amendments. The study highlights the long-term effect of the amendments in stabilizing the soil system.

Concepts: Plant, Fungus, Chemistry, Soil, Mycorrhiza, Glomeromycota, Arbuscular mycorrhiza, Soil life