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Land use alters the resistance and resilience of soil food webs to drought


Soils deliver several ecosystem services including carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling, which are of central importance to climate mitigation and sustainable food production1,2,3. Soil biota play an important role in carbon and nitrogen cycling, and, although the effects of land use on soil food webs are well documented4,5,6, the consequences for their resistance and resilience to climate change are not known. We compared the resistance and resilience to drought—which is predicted to increase under climate change2,7—of soil food webs of two common land-use systems: intensively managed wheat with a bacterial-based soil food web and extensively managed grassland with a fungal-based soil food web. We found that the fungal-based food web, and the processes of C and N loss it governs, of grassland soil was more resistant, although not resilient, and better able to adapt to drought than the bacterial-based food web of wheat soil. Structural equation modelling revealed that fungal-based soil food webs and greater microbial evenness mitigated C and N loss. Our findings show that land use strongly affects the resistance and resilience of soil food webs to climate change, and that extensively managed grassland promotes more resistant, and adaptable, fungal-based soil food webs.

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Figure 1: Resistance and resilience of soil food webs to a laboratory drought as affected by a previous field drought.
Figure 2: Resistance and resilience of C and N losses to a laboratory drought as affected by a previous field drought.
Figure 3: Relationships between remaining variance in soil-food-web characteristics and C and N fluxes, after variance accounted for by experimental treatments has been removed, 1, 3, 10 and 77 days after rewetting.


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This project was part of the EU Seventh Framework funded SOILSERVICE project, led by K. Hedlund. We thank all project partners for contributing to this manuscript through discussions. We thank S. Mortimer and D. Carpenter for setting up the field experiment, and G. Hildred for allowing us into his fields. H. Quirk, L. Trimnell, V. van Velzen, A. Spangenberg, L. F. Petersen, I. Dodd, G. Mies, F. Willeboordse, B. v/d Waterbeemd, C. Siderius, E. Wilson and K. Wilson helped with field and laboratory work. We thank K. Orwin and W. van der Putten for commenting on the manuscript.

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R.D.B., H.M.S., S.C., F.T.d.V., M.E.L. and L.B. had the original idea for the experiment. F.T.d.V. set up the experiment, and laboratory work was conducted by F.T.d.V., M.E.L. and L.B. M.A.B. carried out the structural equation modelling. The manuscript was written principally by F.T.d.V. and R.D.B., with extensive input from H.M.S., S.C., M.E.L., L.B. and M.A.B.

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Correspondence to Franciska T. de Vries.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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de Vries, F., Liiri, M., Bjørnlund, L. et al. Land use alters the resistance and resilience of soil food webs to drought. Nature Clim Change 2, 276–280 (2012).

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