• Biodiversity driving factors;
  • biodiversity patterns;
  • soil biodiversity;
  • soil fauna;
  • soil microbial communities


Aim  To review published evidence regarding the factors that influence the geographic variation in diversity of soil organisms at different spatial scales.

Location  Global.

Methods  A search of the relevant literature was conducted using the Web of Science and the author's personal scientific database as the major sources. Special attention was paid to include seminal studies, highly cited papers and/or studies highlighting novel results.

Results  Despite their significant contribution to global biodiversity, our taxonomic knowledge of soil biota is still poor compared with that of most above-ground organisms. This is particularly evident for small-bodied taxa. Global patterns of soil biodiversity distribution have been poorly documented and are thought to differ significantly from what is reported above-ground. Based on existing data, it appears that microorganisms do not respond to large-scale environmental gradients in the same way as metazoans. Whereas soil microflora seem to be mainly represented by cosmopolitan species, soil animals respond to altitudinal, latitudinal or area gradients in the same way as described for above-ground organisms. At local scales, there is less evidence that local factors regulate above- and below-ground communities in the same way. Except for a few taxa, the humpbacked response to stress and disturbance gradients doesn't seem to apply underground. Soil communities thus appear weakly structured by competition, although competitive constraints may account for assembly rules within specific taxa. The main factor constraining local soil biodiversity is the compact and heterogeneous nature of soils, which provides unrivalled potential for niche partitioning, thus allowing high levels of local biodiversity. This heterogeneity is increased by the impact of ecosystem engineers that generate resource patchiness at a range of spatio-temporal scales.