Climate change and multitrophic interactions in soil: the primacy of plants and functional domains


Correspondence: Sukumar Chakraborty, tel. + 617 3214 2677, fax + 617 3214 2900, e-mail:


Soil multitrophic interactions transfer energy from plants as the predominant primary producer to communities of organisms that occupy different positions in the food chain and are linked by multiple ecological networks, which is the soil food web. Soil food web sequesters carbon, cycles nutrients, maintains soil health to suppress pathogens, helps plants tolerate abiotic and biotic stress, and maintains ecosystem resilience and sustainability. Understanding the influence of climate change on soil multitrophic interactions is necessary to maintain these essential ecosystem services. But summarising this influence is a daunting task due to a paucity of knowledge and a lack of clarity on the ecological networks that constitute these interactions. The scant literature is fragmented along disciplinary lines, often reporting inconsistent findings that are context and scale-dependent. We argue for the differentiation of soil multitrophic interactions along functional and spatial domains to capture cross-disciplinary knowledge and mechanistically link all ecological networks to reproduce full functionalities of the soil food web. Distinct from litter mediated interactions in detritosphere or elsewhere in the soil, the proposed ‘pathogen suppression’ and ‘stress tolerance’ interactions operate in the rhizosphere. A review of the literature suggests that climate change will influence the relative importance, frequency and composition of functional groups, their trophic interactions and processes controlling these interactions. Specific climate change factors generally have a beneficial influence on pathogen suppression and stress tolerance, but findings on the overall soil food web are inconsistent due to a high level of uncertainty. In addition to an overall improvement in the understanding of soil multitrophic interactions using empirical and modelling approaches, we recommend linking biodiversity to function, understanding influence of combinations of climatic factors on multitrophic interactions and the evolutionary ecology of multitrophic interactions in a changing climate as areas that deserve most attention.