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A study of population numbers and ecological interactions of soil and forest floor microfauna

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Microinvertebrate abundance was measured, together with forest soil properties and litter components in eight plots dominated by beech and birch during May to August 2001. The results were analysed using ANOVA, stepwise regression and correlation analysis. Both protozoa and nematodes were analysed according to their functional groups. The protozoa were flagellates, ciliates and naked amoebae, and the nematodes were microbial and plant feeding nematodes. Moisture levels were between 28% and 33% in soil, and 50% to 70% in litter. Population numbers were very variable between sites and dates, and showed variable levels between May and July followed by a significant increase in August.

ANOVA showed significant site and date effects, mainly in the litter. Stepwise regression models and correlation analysis revealed a number of interactions among separate groups of protozoa and nematodes, as well as their interrelations with fungi and bacteria. In addition, statistical analysis of soil data revealed a number of microfaunal relationships with soil pH, moisture and organic content, whilst in the field layer a number of significant interactions with specific forest litter fractions were found.

The results have revealed particularly high levels of microfaunal abundance in the litter fraction compared to the soil, with flagellates and microbial feeding nematodes showing the highest levels among the trophic groups studied. These data compare well with other studies in similar ecosystems. The invertebrates present appear to be concentrated in hotspots of biological activity. In soil, they may predominantly have been confined to the rhizosphere. In the litter, their numbers may have been enhanced by nutrient availability, which may have increased throughout the study period owing to the gradual progress of decomposition facilitated by the combination of faunal, bacterial and fungal activity.

Affiliations: 1: CECS, The Crew Building, King's Buildings, University of Edinburgh, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JN, Scotland, UK; 2: Scottish Crop Research Institute, Invergowrie, Dundee, Scotland, UK; 3: SIMBIOS Schools of Contemporary Sciences and Computing, University of Abertay, Dundee, Bell Street, Dundee DD1 1HG, Scotland, UK


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