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Soil biodiversity and carbon cycling: a review and synthesis of studies examining diversity–function relationships

Authors

  • U. N. Nielsen,

    Corresponding author
    1. Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory and Department of Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA
    2. Department of Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA
      U. N. Nielsen. E-mail: uffe@nrel.colostate.edu
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  • E. Ayres,

    1. Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory and Department of Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA
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    • Present address: National Ecological Observatory Network, 5340 Airport Blvd, Boulder, CO 80301, USA; Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1499, USA; and Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80303, USA.

  • D. H. Wall,

    1. Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory and Department of Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA
    2. Department of Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA
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  • R. D. Bardgett

    1. Soil and Ecosystem Ecology Laboratory, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, LA1 4YQ, UK
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U. N. Nielsen. E-mail: uffe@nrel.colostate.edu

Abstract

Biodiversity and carbon (C) cycling have been the focus of much research in recent decades, partly because both change as a result of anthropogenic activities that are likely to continue. Soils are extremely species-rich and store approximately 80% of global terrestrial C. Soil organisms play a key role in C dynamics and a loss of species through global changes could influence global C dynamics. Here, we synthesize findings from published studies that have manipulated soil species richness and measured the response in terms of ecosystem functions related to C cycling (such as decomposition, respiration and the abundance or biomass of decomposer biota) to evaluate the impact of biodiversity loss on C dynamics. We grouped studies where one or more biotic groups had been manipulated to include a richness of ≤10 species or >10 species in order to reflect ‘low’ and ‘high’ extents of diversity manipulations. There was a positive relationship between species richness and C cycling in 77–100% of low-diversity experiments, even when the richness of just one biotic group was manipulated, whereas positive relationships occurred less frequently in studies with greater richness (35–64%). Moreover, when positive relationships were observed, these often indicated functional redundancy at low extents of diversity or that community composition had a stronger influence on C cycling than did species richness. Initial reductions in soil species richness resulting from global changes are unlikely to alter C dynamics significantly unless particularly influential species are lost. However, changes in community composition, and the loss of species with an ability to facilitate specialized soil processes related to C cycling, as a result of global changes, may have larger impacts on C dynamics.

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