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PLoS One. 2013 Apr 30;8(4):e62796. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062796. Print 2013.

Effects of an ecosystem engineer on belowground movement of microarthropods.

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1
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. ecameron@ualberta.ca

Abstract

Ecosystem engineers affect other species by changing physical environments. Such changes may influence movement of organisms, particularly belowground where soil permeability can restrict dispersal. We investigated whether earthworms, iconic ecosystem engineers, influence microarthropod movement. Our experiment tested whether movement is affected by tunnels (i.e., burrows), earthworm excreta (mucus, castings), or earthworms themselves. Earthworm burrows form tunnel networks that may facilitate movement. This effect may be enhanced by excreta, which could provide resources for microarthropods moving along the network. Earthworms may also promote movement via phoresy. Conversely, negative effects could occur if earthworms alter predator-prey relationships or change competitive interactions between microarthropods. We used microcosms consisting of a box connecting a "source" container in which microarthropods were present and a "destination" container filled with autoclaved soil. Treatments were set up within the boxes, which also contained autoclaved soil, as follows: 1) control with no burrows; 2) artificial burrows with no excreta; 3) abandoned burrows with excreta but no earthworms; and 4) earthworms (Lumbricus rubellus) present in burrows. Half of the replicates were sampled once after eight days, while the other half were sampled repeatedly to examine movement over time. Rather than performing classical pairwise comparisons to test our hypotheses, we used AIC(c) to assess support for three competing models (presence of tunnels, excreta, and earthworms). More individuals of Collembola, Mesostigmata, and all microarthropods together dispersed when tunnels were present. Models that included excreta and earthworms were less well supported. Total numbers of dispersing Oribatida and Prostigmata+Astigmata were not well explained by any models tested. Further research is needed to examine the impact of soil structure and ecosystem engineering on movement belowground, as the substantial increase in movement of some microarthropods when corridors were present suggests these factors can strongly affect colonization and community assembly.

PMID:
23646146
PMCID:
PMC3640026
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0062796
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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