Get access

Soil fertility controls the size-specific distribution of eukaryotes


  • Guest Editor: B.-L. Li; Proceedings EcoSummit 2007

Address for correspondence: Christian Mulder, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, RIVM-LER, P. O. Box 1, Bilthoven, NL-3720 BA, the Netherlands.


The large range of body-mass values of soil organisms provides a tool to assess the organization of soil ecological communities. Relationships between log-transformed body mass M and log-transformed numerical abundance N of all eukaryotes occurring under organic pastures, mature grasslands, and seminatural heathlands in the Netherlands were investigated. The observed allometry of (M,N) assemblages of below-ground communities strongly reflects the availability of primary macronutrients and essential micronutrients. This log-linear model describes the continuous variation in the allometric slope of animals and fungi along an increasing soil fertility gradient. The aggregate contribution of small invertebrates (M < 1 μg) to the entire faunal community is highest under nutrient deficiency and causes shifts in the mass–abundance relationships. The phosphorus concentration in the soil explains 72% of these shifts but the nitrogen concentration explains only 36%, with copper and zinc as intermediate predictors (59% and 49%, respectively). Empirical evidence supports common responses of invertebrates to the rates of resource supply and, possibly, to the above-ground primary production of ecosystems.

Get access to the full text of this article