Season mediates herbivore effects on litter and soil microbial abundance and activity in a semi-arid woodland

Aimée T. Classen, Steven T. Overby, Stephen C. Hart, George W Koch, Thomas G Whitham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Herbivores can directly impact ecosystem function by altering litter quality of an ecosystem or indirectly by shifting the composition of microbial communities that mediate nutrient processes. We examined the effects of tree susceptibility and resistance to herbivory on litter microarthropod and soil microbial communities to test the general hypothesis that herbivore driven changes in litter inputs and soil microclimate will feedback to the microbial community. Our study population consisted of individual piñon pine trees that were either susceptible or resistant to the stem-boring moth (Dioryctria albovittella) and susceptible piñon pine trees from which the moth herbivores have been manually removed since 1982. Moth herbivory increased piñon litter nitrogen concentrations (16%) and decreased canopy precipitation interception (28%), both potentially significant factors influencing litter and soil microbial communities. Our research resulted in three major findings: (1) In spite of an apparent increase in litter quality, herbivory did not change litter microarthropod abundance or species richness. (2) However, susceptibility to herbivores strongly influenced bulk soil microbial communities (i.e., 52% greater abundance beneath herbivore-resistant and herbivore-removal trees than susceptible trees) and alkaline phosphatase activity (i.e., 412% increase beneath susceptible trees relative to other groups). (3) Season had a strong influence on microbial communities (i.e., microbial biomass and alkaline phosphatase activity increased after the summer rains), and their response to herbivore inputs, in this semi-arid ecosystem. Thus, during the dry season plant resistance and susceptibility to a common insect herbivore had little or no observable effects on the belowground organisms and processes we studied, but after the rains, some pronounced effects emerged.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-227
Number of pages11
JournalPlant and Soil
Volume295
Issue number1-2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2007

Fingerprint

woodlands
herbivore
woodland
litter
herbivores
microbial community
microbial communities
soil
herbivory
moth
moths
phosphatase
alkaline phosphatase
ecosystems
Dioryctria
effect
ecosystem
Pinus
microclimate
boring

Keywords

  • Community-level physiological profiles
  • Enzyme activity
  • Insect herbivory
  • Microarthropods
  • Microbial biomass
  • Semi-arid woodland

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science

Cite this

Season mediates herbivore effects on litter and soil microbial abundance and activity in a semi-arid woodland. / Classen, Aimée T.; Overby, Steven T.; Hart, Stephen C.; Koch, George W; Whitham, Thomas G.

In: Plant and Soil, Vol. 295, No. 1-2, 06.2007, p. 217-227.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Classen, Aimée T. ; Overby, Steven T. ; Hart, Stephen C. ; Koch, George W ; Whitham, Thomas G. / Season mediates herbivore effects on litter and soil microbial abundance and activity in a semi-arid woodland. In: Plant and Soil. 2007 ; Vol. 295, No. 1-2. pp. 217-227.
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