Oecologia

, Volume 168, Issue 1, pp 221–230

Do soil organisms affect aboveground litter decomposition in the semiarid Patagonian steppe, Argentina?

Ecosystem ecology - Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00442-011-2063-4

Cite this article as:
Araujo, P.I., Yahdjian, L. & Austin, A.T. Oecologia (2012) 168: 221. doi:10.1007/s00442-011-2063-4

Abstract

Surface litter decomposition in arid and semiarid ecosystems is often faster than predicted by climatic parameters such as annual precipitation or evapotranspiration, or based on standard indices of litter quality such as lignin or nitrogen concentrations. Abiotic photodegradation has been demonstrated to be an important factor controlling aboveground litter decomposition in aridland ecosystems, but soil fauna, particularly macrofauna such as termites and ants, have also been identified as key players affecting litter mass loss in warm deserts. Our objective was to quantify the importance of soil organisms on surface litter decomposition in the Patagonian steppe in the absence of photodegradative effects, to establish the relative importance of soil organisms on rates of mass loss and nitrogen release. We estimated the relative contribution of soil fauna and microbes to litter decomposition of a dominant grass using litterboxes with variable mesh sizes that excluded groups of soil fauna based on size class (10, 2, and 0.01 mm), which were placed beneath shrub canopies. We also employed chemical repellents (naphthalene and fungicide). The exclusion of macro- and mesofauna had no effect on litter mass loss over 3 years (P = 0.36), as litter decomposition was similar in all soil fauna exclusions and naphthalene-treated litter. In contrast, reduction of fungal activity significantly inhibited litter decomposition (P < 0.001). Although soil fauna have been mentioned as a key control of litter decomposition in warm deserts, biogeographic legacies and temperature limitation may constrain the importance of these organisms in temperate aridlands, particularly in the southern hemisphere.

Keywords

AridlandsMacro- and mesofaunaFungiCarbon turnoverTermites

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Facultad de Agronomía, Instituto de Investigaciones Fisiológicas y Ecológicas Vinculadas a la Agricultura (IFEVA) and Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET)Universidad de Buenos AiresBuenos AiresArgentina