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Tracking the flow of bacterially derived 13C and 15N through soil faunal feeding channels


  • Presented at the combined meetings of the BMSS Special Interest Group on Stable Isotopes (BMSS ISO-SIG), the Stable Isotopes Mass Spectrometry Users' Group (SIMSUG) and COST action ‘Stable Isotopes in Biosphere-Atmosphere-Earth System Research’ (SIBAE) held at Exeter University 27–30 April, 2010.

F. V. Crotty, Sustainable Soil and Grassland Systems, Rothamsted Research, North Wyke, Okehampton EX 20 2SB, UK.



The soil food web has been referred to as a ‘black box’, a ‘poor man's tropical rainforest’ and an ‘enigma’, due to its opacity, diversity and the limited insight into feeding specificity. Here we investigate the flow of C and N through the soil food web as a way to gain understanding of the feeding interactions occurring. A bacterium, Pseudomonas lurida, was introduced to soil cores from two different habitats, a grassland and a woodland with the same soil type, enriched to 99 atom% in 13C and 15N, to trace the flow of bacterial C and N through the soil food web. Throughout the experiment the soil remained enriched in 13C and 15N. Almost all the invertebrates tested gained C and N enrichment indicative of the labelled bacteria, implying that bacterial feeding is a common mechanism within the soil. Only three groups were significantly enriched in both 13C and 15N in both habitats. These were Collembola (Entomobryomorpha), Acari (Oribatida), and Nematoda, indicating that these organisms are consuming the most bacteria within both systems. When the invertebrates were grouped into hypothesised trophic levels, those considered secondary decomposers were gaining the most enrichment across all invertebrates tested. This enrichment was also high in the micro-predators within the soil, implying that their main food source was the secondary decomposers, particularly the Collembola. Using an enriched bacterium to track the trophic transfer between organisms within the soil food web is a novel way of empirically showing that interactions are occurring, which normally cannot be seen. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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