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Soil invertebrate fauna enhances grassland succession and diversity


One of the most important areas in ecology is to elucidate the factors that drive succession in ecosystems and thus influence the diversity of species in natural vegetation. Significant mechanisms in this process are known to be resource limitation1,2,3 and the effects of aboveground vertebrate herbivores4,5. More recently, symbiotic and pathogenic soil microbes have been shown to exert a profound effect on the composition of vegetation6,7,8,9 and changes therein10,11. However, the influence of invertebrate soil fauna on succession has so far received little attention12,13. Here we report that invertebrate soil fauna might enhance both secondary succession and local plant species diversity. Soil fauna from a series of secondary grassland succession stages selectively suppress early successional dominant14 plant species, thereby enhancing the relative abundance of subordinate14 species and also that of species from later succession stages. Soil fauna from the mid-succession stage had the strongest effect. Our results clearly show that soil fauna strongly affects the composition of natural vegetation and we suggest that this knowledge might improve the restoration and conservation of plant species diversity.

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Figure 1: Change in the shoot biomass of early and mid-succession plant species and plants from the target grassland community in the presence of soil fauna relative to the control (no soil fauna added) calculated as (Bi - Bc)/Bc, where Bi and Bc are the mean shoot biomasses with and without soil fauna added, respectively.
Figure 2: Simpson's evenness index (mean ± s.e.m.) of microcosms with experimental grassland communities without and with soil fauna.
Figure 3: Effect of soil fauna from early, mid-succession and target grassland communities on total root and shoot biomasses of grasses and forbs (mean ± s.e.m.; n = 8).


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We thank J. A. Harvey for a critical reading of a previous version of the manuscript. This work was funded by the Dutch NWO-ALW Stimulation Programme Biodiversity.

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Correspondence to Gerlinde B. De Deyn.

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De Deyn, G., Raaijmakers, C., Zoomer, H. et al. Soil invertebrate fauna enhances grassland succession and diversity. Nature 422, 711–713 (2003).

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