, Volume 93, Issue 2, pp 303-306

The dual importance of competition and predation as regulatory forces in terrestrial ecosystems: evidence from decomposer food-webs

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The relative importance of predation and competition (resource limitation) in influencing the components of a below-ground food-web consisting of three trophic levels (bacteria and fungi; bacterial-feeding and fungal-feeding nematodes; and top predatory nematodes) was estimated using microbial biomass and nematode frequency data collected throughout a 1-year period in two agro-ecosystems. The study suggested that bacterial and fungal biomass were likely to be regulated by grazing and competition respectively, and that these differences were likely to be attributed to the biological (probably morphological) differences between bacteria and fungi, in contrast to the predictions of the hypothesis of Hairston et al. (1960). Top predatory nematodes were sometimes strongly related to the microbial but not microbial-feeding trophic levels, indicating that microbial biomass may directly influence top predator numbers, and that the intermediate level may simply serve as a conduit by which resources pass from the bottom to top trophic levels. This study also suggests that the detritus food-web acts as two distinct (bacterial-and fungal-based) compartments.