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The bacterial-fungal energy channel concept challenged by enormous functional versatility of soil protists

Geisen, Stefan
Soil biology & biochemistry 2016 v.102 pp. 22-25
Nematoda, animal pathogens, animals, bacteria, bacterivores, ecological function, energy flow, functional diversity, fungi, fungivores, models, parasites, plant pathogens, plants (botany), protists, soil, soil biota, soil food webs, trophic levels
Protists (=protozoa) are commonly treated as bacterivores that control the bacterial energy channel in soil food webs. This ecologist’s perspective is, however, challenged by taxonomic studies showing that a range of protists feed on fungi, other protists and even nematodes. Recently, it was revealed that obligate and facultative mycophagous protists are common soil inhabitants, while others are facultative nematophagous. Furthermore, protists act as parasites and pathogens of plants and animals. This neglected functional diversity of protists, that is similarly prevalent for other groups of soil organisms, reveals that current food web model models are oversimplified.Facultative feeding of various protist taxa on bacteria and fungi, the source of both major energy channels, strongly implies that a clear split of the energy channels at lower trophic levels does not exist and that more complex energy flows prevail in soil food webs. Future efforts should therefore target ecological functioning of protists and other groups of soil organisms, on a species-specific level, to create more meaningful functional units that then need incorporation in modified soil food web models. Such efforts will help disentangling the structure, diversity and resulting functioning of complex soil systems, including energy flows through the soil food web.