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Am J Bot. 2011 Mar;98(3):517-27. doi: 10.3732/ajb.1000305. Epub 2011 Feb 17.

Linking soil biodiversity and vegetation: implications for a changing planet.

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Department of Biology and Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523-1499, USA.


Soil biota are intimately tied to plant communities through herbivory and symbiosis and indirectly by the decomposition of dead organic plant material. Through both roots and aboveground organic material (e.g., leaves and wood), plants provide substantial inputs of organic matter to soil systems. Plants are the basis for most biotic soil food webs that comprise an enormous diversity of species whose multiple interactions function to help regulate nutrient cycling, which in turn influences plant growth. Many factors govern the biogeography of soil biota, including the physical and chemical properties of soil, climate, the composition and type of vegetation, and interactions with other soil biota. Despite awareness of factors influencing soil communities, no single factor allows predictions of soil animal diversity or distribution. However, research is showing that plants can have unique soil biotic communities. Degradation of soil, which removes predators and biotic regulation that occurs in less managed ecosystems, can result in increased pathogens and pests that affect humans, other animals and plants. Global changes such as land use, desertification, and soil pollution all have been shown to alter soil animal diversity and abundance. Because of our dependence on soils and plant production, studies linking soil biotic communities to primary productivity are needed to assure long-term soil sustainability.

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