General Relationships between Abiotic Soil Properties and Soil Biota across Spatial Scales and Different Land-Use Types

Abstract

Very few principles have been unraveled that explain the relationship between soil properties and soil biota across large spatial scales and different land-use types. Here, we seek these general relationships using data from 52 differently managed grassland and forest soils in three study regions spanning a latitudinal gradient in Germany. We hypothesize that, after extraction of variation that is explained by location and land-use type, soil properties still explain significant proportions of variation in the abundance and diversity of soil biota. If the relationships between predictors and soil organisms were analyzed individually for each predictor group, soil properties explained the highest amount of variation in soil biota abundance and diversity, followed by land-use type and sampling location. After extraction of variation that originated from location or land-use, abiotic soil properties explained significant amounts of variation in fungal, meso- and macrofauna, but not in yeast or bacterial biomass or diversity. Nitrate or nitrogen concentration and fungal biomass were positively related, but nitrate concentration was negatively related to the abundances of Collembola and mites and to the myriapod species richness across a range of forest and grassland soils. The species richness of earthworms was positively correlated with clay content of soils independent of sample location and land-use type. Our study indicates that after accounting for heterogeneity resulting from large scale differences among sampling locations and land-use types, soil properties still explain significant proportions of variation in fungal and soil fauna abundance or diversity. However, soil biota was also related to processes that act at larger spatial scales and bacteria or soil yeasts only showed weak relationships to soil properties. We therefore argue that more general relationships between soil properties and soil biota can only be derived from future studies that consider larger spatial scales and different land-use types.

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043292

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