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Keywords:

  • aggregation;
  • climate change;
  • microorganisms;
  • scaling;
  • soil biota;
  • soil structure

Abstract

The structural framework of soil mediates all soil processes, at all relevant scales. The spatio-temporal heterogeneity prevalent in most soils underpins the majority of biological diversity in soil, providing refuge sites for prey against predator, flow paths for biota to move, or be moved, and localized pools of substrate for biota to multiply. Just as importantly, soil biota play a crucial role in mediating soil structure: bacteria and fungi aggregate and stabilize structure at small scales (μm–cm) and earthworms and termites stabilize and create larger-scale structures (mm–m). The stability of this two-way interaction of structure and biota relations is crucial to the sustainability of the ecosystem.

Soil is constantly reacting to changes in microclimates, and many of the soil–plant–microbe processes rely on the functioning of subtle chemical and physical gradients. The effect of global change on soil structure–biota interactions may be significant, through alterations in precipitation, temperature events, or land-use. Nonetheless, because of the complexity and the ubiquitous heterogeneity of these interactions, it is difficult to extrapolate from general qualitative predictions of the effects of perturbations to specific reactions. This paper reviews some of the main soil structure–biota interactions, particularly focusing on soil stability, and the role of biota mediating soil structures. The effect of alterations in climate and land-use on these interactions is investigated. Several case studies of the effect of land-use change are presented.