Opening up new niche dimensions: The stoichiometry of soil microarthropods in European beech and Norway spruce forests

2023-05-22 | journal article. A publication with affiliation to the University of Göttingen.

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​Opening up new niche dimensions: The stoichiometry of soil microarthropods in European beech and Norway spruce forests​
Warnke, L.; Hertel, D.; Scheu, S. & Maraun, M.​ (2023) 
Ecology and Evolution13(5) art. e10122​.​ DOI: 

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Warnke, Lara; Hertel, Dietrich; Scheu, Stefan; Maraun, Mark
Niche theory fundamentally contributed to the understanding of animal diversity. However, in soil, the diversity of animals seems enigmatic since the soil is a rather homogeneous habitat, and soil animals are often generalist feeders. A new approach to understand soil animal diversity is the use of ecological stoichiometry. The elemental composition of animals may explain their occurrence, distribution, and density. This approach has been used before in soil macrofauna, but this study is the first to investigate soil mesofauna. Using inductively coupled plasma optic emission spectrometry (ICP-OES), we analyzed the concentration of a wide range of elements (Al, Ca, Cu, Fe, K, Mg, Mn, Na, P, S, Zn) in 15 soil mite taxa (Oribatida, Mesostigmata) from the litter of two different forest types (beech, spruce) in Central Europe (Germany). Additionally, the concentration of carbon and nitrogen, and their stable isotope ratios (15N/14N, 13C/12C), reflecting their trophic niche, were measured. We hypothesized that (1) stoichiometry differs between mite taxa, (2) stoichiometry of mite taxa occurring in both forest types is not different, and (3) element composition is correlated to trophic level as indicated by 15N/14N ratios. The results showed that stoichiometric niches of soil mite taxa differed considerably indicating that elemental composition is an important niche dimension of soil animal taxa. Further, stoichiometric niches of the studied taxa did not differ significantly between the two forest types. Calcium was negatively correlated with trophic level indicating that taxa incorporating calcium carbonate in their cuticle for defense occupy lower trophic positions in the food web. Furthermore, a positive correlation of phosphorus with trophic level indicated that taxa higher in the food web have higher energetic demand. Overall, the results indicate that ecological stoichiometry of soil animals is a promising tool for understanding their diversity and functioning.
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Ecology and Evolution 
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
Open-Access-Publikationsfonds 2023



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