The role of microarthropods and nematodes in decomposition in a semi-arid ecosystem

TitleThe role of microarthropods and nematodes in decomposition in a semi-arid ecosystem
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1982
AuthorsElkins NZ, Whitford WG
Date Published1982
Call Number00053
Keywordsarticle, articles, decomposition,microarthropod, decomposition,nematode, journal, journals, microarthropod,decomposition, nematode,decomposition, plant,Quercus, Quercus community,decomposition, Quercus,microarthropods, Quercus,nematodes

We sampled the soil microarthropod community monthly in the oak-mesquite sand hill ecosystem. Small fungiphagous prostigmated mites (pyemotids, lordalychids and tarsonemids) that dominated the soil fauna in winter were replaced by large predaceous mites (rhodacarids and laelapids) in summer and autumn. We compared organic matter loss and microarthropod and nematode populaiton in shinnery oak (Quercus harvardii) using insecticide and untreated litter in fiberglass litterbags. Microarthropods extracted form litterbags showed a seasonal pattern similar to the soil cores except that collembolans and psocopterans were abundant in the litter and not in the soil cores. Numbers of free living nematodes were consistently greater than from untreated litter. The ratio of non-stylet bearing nematodes extracted from the litter decreased from 4:1 in one month bags to 0.8:1.0 in the one year bags. Laboratory experiments showed that rhodacarid mites fed voraciously on nematodes. Untreated litter ixhibited higher rates of organic matter loss than the insecticide treated litter; 20% and 35% respectively. We suggest that the abundant mesostigmatid mites prey on free living nematodes and that eliminating the predators allows the nematodes to overgraze the fungi and bacteria. The soil modifies the microclimate in buried litter allowing for higher biological activity, hence higher rates of decomposition.