Soil surprise

Cedar Creek

Living things that lurk beneath the surface of the soil have huge impacts on living things above, influencing everything from individual plants’ ability to obtain nutrients to the integrity of the elaborate food webs that keep animals of all shapes and sizes alive. Now, thanks to research by IonE resident fellows Peter Reich (College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences), Sarah Hobbie (College of Biological Sciences) and colleagues, it’s clear that what’s happening above the surface has a huge impact on the living things below as well.

In a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Reich, Hobbie, postdoctoral fellow Nico Eisenhauer and colleagues reported that in the BioCON experiment at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, as the number of prairie plant species was reduced experimentally, the abundance of a variety of soil organisms, including microorganisms, nematodes and mites, declined as well.

The researchers suspect the declines likely are caused by decreased overall plant growth and plant inputs to soils when plant species richness is lowered, leading to reduced soil organic matter and associated resources to support soil food webs.

In contrast, elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide and nitrogen had few effects on the soil community. The researchers’ conclusion: losses in plant diversity are a major driver of losses in soil biodiversity.

To learn more, check out Plant Diversity Effects on Soil Food Webs are Stronger Than Those of Elevated CO2and N Deposition in a Long-Term Grassland Experiment.

A version of this post originally appeared in the College of Biological Sciences’ CBS News. Used with permission. Photo of Cedar Creek experimental plots by Tim Rummelhoff