Trophic relationships in the soil microfood-web: predicting the responses to a changing global environment


David Wardle, fax +64-3-325-2418,


In this article, we evaluate how global environmental change may affect microfood-webs and trophic interactions in the soil, and the implications of this at the ecosystem level. First we outline how bottom-up (resource control) and top-down (predation-control) forces regulate food-web components. Food-web components can respond either positively or negatively to shifts in NPP resulting from global change, thus creating difficulties in developing general principles about the response of soil biota to global change phenomena. We also demonstrate that top-down effects can be important in soil food-webs, creating negative feed-backs which may partially counter bottom-up effects. Secondly, we determine how soil food-webs and the processes they regulate respond to various global change phenomena. Enhanced atmospheric CO2 levels can have two main effects on plants which are relevant for the soil food-web, i.e. enhanced NPP (often positive) and diminished organic matter quality (with negative effects, at least in the short term). Climate change effects resulting from elevated CO2 levels may be mainly secondary through alteration of vegetation, as shown by examples. Intensification of land management is usually associated with greater disturbance, which alters soil food-web composition and key processes; this is particularly apparent in comparisons of conventionally tilled and nontilled agroecosystems. Global change involves shifts in plant species composition and diversity, possibly affecting soil food-webs; we interpret this in terms of theories relating biodiversity to ecosystem function. We conclude that a more detailed understanding of interactions between NPP, soil organic matter and components of the soil food-web, as well as their regulation of biogeochemical processes and ultimately ecosystem-level properties, is essential in better understanding long-term aspects of global change phenomena.