Effects of the Conversion of Native Vegetation to Farmlands on Soil Microarthropod Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning in a Desert Oasis
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- Li, FR., Feng, Q., Liu, JL. et al. Ecosystems (2013) 16: 1364. doi:10.1007/s10021-013-9689-5
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Increased demand for food due to the rapidly growing human population has led to extensive conversion of native steppes at the margins of oases in arid lands of northwest China into intensively managed farmlands. However, the consequences of this land-use change for soil microarthropod biodiversity and ecosystem functioning remain unknown. Here we assessed how conversion of a native steppe to irrigated farmlands of different ages affects the abundance and composition of soil microarthropods and how changes in soil microarthropod biodiversity could scale up to influence soil carbon and nitrogen stocks. We sampled microarthropod communities over two growing seasons from native steppes and cultivated soils of a 27-year-old irrigated farmland and a 90-year-old irrigated farmland, both of which were converted from the native steppe. Topsoil properties and bulk and labile pools of carbon and nitrogen, including soil organic carbon, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), microbial biomass carbon (MBC), total nitrogen (TN), inorganic nitrogen (IN), and microbial biomass nitrogen (MBN), were also measured. The conversion of native steppe to either of the two farmlands significantly increased the abundance and taxa richness of three taxonomic groups (mites, collembolans, and others) and four trophic groups (herbivores, predators, detritivores, and fungivores); this effect was greater in the 90-year-old farmland for the abundance of all taxonomic and trophic groups except for herbivores and was similar between the two farmlands for the richness of all taxonomic and trophic groups. Taxonomic and trophic composition of the microarthropod community showed strong shifts in response to conversion of native steppe to either of the two farmlands. Compositional changes were largely mediated by changes in soil environments. Changes in soil carbon and nitrogen stocks due to conversion of native steppe to farmlands followed similar patterns to soil microarthropod biodiversity, but the greater storage of DOC, MBC, TN, IN, and MBN occurred in the 90-year-old farmland. Our results suggest that soil microarthropod communities are affected positively by native steppe conversion to farmland and farmland age, and that increased microarthropod biodiversity significantly improved the ability of soils to retain carbon and nitrogen.