Following the creation of new land surfaces, there is an initial build-up phase of ecosystem development, but after a prolonged absence of major disturbance a retrogressive (decline) phase often follows due to reduced nutrient availability over time. Although many studies have considered how the soil community changes during the build-up phase, the response of this community to the retrogressive phase is poorly known. We measured litter and soil communities of microfauna and macrofauna along the Franz Josef Glacier chronosequence in New Zealand that spans ca. 120,000 years, and includes well-established build-up and retrogressive stages. We aimed to assess whether the abundances, community structure and diversity of these groups show the same pattern across the sequence as that for vegetation. With regard to microfaunal abundances, litter-dwelling microbe-feeding nematodes were most abundant in the first stage of the chronosequence, but several other groups of microfauna in both the soil and litter increased sharply during the first few stages and declined sharply during the last (retrogressive) stages. The ratios of bacterial- to fungal-feeding nematodes in both soil and litter were lowest for the final stages of the chronosequence, and (in the case of soil) for some of the early stages, pointing to domination by the fungal-based energy channel at those stages for which soil organic matter content or quality were lowest. This is consistent with the fungal-based energy channel being better adapted than the bacterial-based channel for resource-poor conditions. The main groups of macroinvertebrates typically had their lowest abundances at the very early and late stages of the chronosequence, although the relative abundances of different taxa differed during the intermediate stages. Taxonomic diversity of nematodes and macroinvertebrates in both litter and soil varied strongly with chronosequence stage but differed among taxa; diversity of only one group (macroinvertebrates in litter) declined significantly during retrogression. Diversity of nematodes and macroinvertebrates along the sequence did not closely match tree diversity or soil chemical properties, but community composition of these groups was often related to tree community composition and ratios of soil C to N, C to P and N to P. Different groups of soil invertebrates show contrasting responses to chronosequence stage, probably because they differ in their relative response to bottom-up and top-down controls. However, the abundance of most groups increased during the build-up phase and declined during retrogression. As such, the build-up and decline phases observed for plant communities and ecosystem processes across long-term chronosequences also apply to soil communities, pointing to the importance of resource availability as a major driver of soil biota during long-term ecosystem change.
E. Doblas-Miranda, D. Wardle, D. Peltzer
Soil Biology & Biochemistry