Main content area

Tree species diversity versus tree species identity: Driving forces in structuring forest food webs as indicated by soil nematodes

Cesarz, Simone, Ruess, Liliane, Jacob, Mascha, Jacob, Andreas, Schaefer, Matthias, Scheu, Stefan
Soil biology & biochemistry 2013 v.62 pp. 36-45
Fagus sylvatica subsp. sylvatica, Fraxinus excelsior, Nematoda, Tilia cordata, acid soils, biomass, deciduous forests, ecosystems, energy, food chain, microbial communities, mycorrhizal fungi, physiology, plant litter, rhizodeposition, roots, soil food webs, soil nematodes, soil pH, species diversity, spring, trees, vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizae
Positive relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning are reported in many studies. The underlying mechanisms are, however, only little understood, likely due to the focus on the aboveground system and neglecting species-specific traits. We used different clusters of tree species composition to investigate how tree species diversity and tree species identity affect belowground nematode communities. Since soil nematodes comprise different trophic groups and are strongly linked to the microbial community, results can provide insight on how soil food webs are structured. In addition, data on leaf litter and fine root biomass were included to account for different effects of aboveground and belowground resources. Clusters of three trees of one, two and three species were identified within a temperate deciduous forest. Target tree species were European beech (Fagus sylvatica), common ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and lime (Tilia cordata, T. platyphyllos) differing in physiology, leaf litter quality and type of mycorrhiza. Tree species identity strongly affected nematode trophic structure, whereas tree species diversity had no impact. Ash beneficially affected bacterial-feeding nematodes, whereas fungal feeders were suppressed, likely caused by ash litter increasing soil pH. Fostering of the bacterial food chain by ash additionally could be related to rhizodeposition gaining importance after disappearance of high quality ash litter in spring, highlighting seasonal shifts in root and leaf litter-derived resources. The negative effect of ash on fungal-feeding nematodes is suggested to be due to the lack of ectomycorrhizal fungi as ash roots only form arbuscular mycorrhiza. In contrast, beech benefited fungal feeders and detrimentally affected bacterial feeders due to more acidic soil conditions that increase the competitive strength of fungi. Lime tended to negatively impact total nematode density but positively influenced plant-feeding nematodes. Generally, beech and ash strongly but opposingly influenced the trophic structure of nematode communities suggesting that changes in tree species identity result in major shifts in the channeling of energy through decomposer food webs. The results indicate that the structure of soil food webs varies markedly with tree species and point to the importance of basal resources, i.e., leaf litter and rhizodeposits. This suggests bottom-up forces mediated by individual tree species to control major decomposition pathways rather than tree diversity.