Linking invertebrate communities to decomposition rate and nitrogen availability in pine forest soils

D. A. Neher, T. R. Weicht, M. E. Barbercheck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Interpretation of biological indicators of soil quality depends on their ability to reflect ecological processes such as decomposition and nutrient mineralization. Mineral soils in pairs of relatively undisturbed and disturbed pine forests in each of three land resource regions of North Carolina (i.e., coastal plain, piedmont, and mountains) were monitored 15 times over two years. Abundance of nematodes in 35 families, collembolans in 8 families, and 16 other microarthropod taxa were enumerated. Nematodes were identified only in mineral soil whereas microarthropods were identified separately in litter and mineral soil. Rate (mg lost per day) of cellulose and wood decomposition were estimated based on weight loss of standardized substrates enclosed in litter baskets; available nitrate (NO 3 -) and ammonium (NH 4 +) were quantified in soil. Principal components analysis was performed on 59 invertebrate taxa to identify the taxa explaining the greatest proportion of variation in the monitored community. Soil microclimate and chemical properties were included as covariables. Canonical correlation was performed to quantify the relationship between soil invertebrate communities and indicators of ecological processes. Variation in soil N availability and decomposition rate was best explained when the two microfaunal communities, nematodes and arthropods, respectively, were examined separately. Nematode communities explained 2.3-6.9% of the variation in NO 3 - and NH 4 + availability, indicators of N mineralization, in disturbed forests compared to 8.6-12.4% in undisturbed forests. In contrast, arthropod communities explained 11-14.8% of the variation in decomposition rate in disturbed forests compared to 2.8-14.3% in undisturbed forests. These results are the first to quantify, from a wide and realistic spatial variability in the environmental factors, the value of in situ soil microfaunal communities as indicators of soil processes, N availability and decomposition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14-23
Number of pages10
JournalApplied Soil Ecology
StatePublished - Mar 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Soil Science


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