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Response of different decomposer communities to the manipulation of moisture availability: potential effects of changing precipitation patterns


  • Correspondence: Current postal address: Astrid Taylor, Department of Mycology and Pathology, PO Box 7026, SE-75007 Uppsala, Sweden, fax +46/(0)18-309245, e-mail:


The potential impacts of changes in precipitation patterns associated with global climate change on the relationship between soil community diversity and litter decomposition were investigated. For a period of ca. 5 months, two decomposer communities in litterbags (1000 and 45 μm mesh size) containing spruce litter were subjected to two irrigation treatments: constant and fluctuating (drying/rewetting) moisture conditions. The latter were expected to induce moisture stress on the decomposer communities. The two mesh sizes were used to exclude different faunal components from the decomposer communities. The 1000 μm mesh excluded only the macrofauna, whereas the 45 μm mesh excluded both the macro- and mesofauna. In the short-term perspective of the present study, mesofauna abundance showed no response to imposed fluctuating moisture conditions. Irrespective of the presence of mesofauna, mass loss, microbial biomass and the control mechanisms, regulating carbon mineralization appeared unaffected by fluctuating moisture conditions. The reduction in the functional/structural diversity of the decomposer communities in the 45 μm litterbags resulted in strongly increased Nematoda abundance but it did not alter the response of Nematoda to fluctuating moisture conditions. Processes in the nitrogen (N)-cycle and mass loss were sensitive indicators of changes in the structural and functional complexity of decomposer communities. However, a negative effect of fluctuating moisture conditions on extractable N was coupled to the presence of mesofauna. Extremes in rainfall patterns, generated by climate change, may have a negative impact on the availability of nutrients, particularly N, for plants. This effect could be amplified by an additional impoverishment in the structural and functional complexity of the respective decomposer communities.