Species richness and food web structure of soil decomposer community as affected by the size of habitat fragment and habitat corridors


Minna-Liisa Rantalainen, fax+358 3 89220331, e-mail: minna-liisa.rantalainen@helsinki.fi


While most ecologists agree that the effects of fragmentation on diversity of organisms are predominantly negative and that the scale of fragmentation defines their severity, the role of habitat corridors in mitigating those effects still remains controversial. This ambiguousness rests largely on various difficulties in experimentation, a problem partially solved in the present paper by the use of easily manipulated soil communities. In this 2.5-year-long field experiment, we investigated the responses of soil decomposer organisms (from microbes to mesofaunal predators) to habitat fragment size, in the presence or absence of habitat corridors connecting the fragments. The habitat fragments and corridors, composed of forest humus soil, were embedded in mineral soil representing an uninhabitable (or nonpreferred) matrix for the decomposer organisms. The results demonstrate that soil decomposer organisms do respond to changes in their habitat size: the species richness of microarthropods (mites and collembolans) increased as the size of the fragments increased. Especially collembolan species and predatory mites proved to be sensitive to the restricted habitat size, which is suggested to be a consequence of the large proportion of rare species and small and fluctuating population sizes in these groups. Contrary to our expectations, the presence of corridors had no positive effects on species richness or abundance of any of the studied faunas, possibly because of the low quality of the corridors. On the other hand, the biomass of soil fungi increased in the presence of corridors, which apparently provided a preferred pathway for vegetative dispersal of the fungi. Our results indicate that despite their characteristic underground environment, the response of soil decomposer organisms – in particular that of microarthropods – to habitat size is not unlike to that of the larger organisms in aboveground habitats.