Concepts, Reviews and Syntheses


, Volume 165, Issue 3, pp 553-565

First online:

A meta-analysis of responses of soil biota to global change

  • Joseph C. BlankinshipAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Northern Arizona UniversitySchool of Natural Sciences and Sierra Nevada Research Institute, University of California Email author 
  • , Pascal A. NiklausAffiliated withInstitute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zürich
  • , Bruce A. HungateAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Northern Arizona UniversityMerriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research, Northern Arizona University

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Global environmental changes are expected to impact the abundance of plants and animals aboveground, but comparably little is known about the responses of belowground organisms. Using meta-analysis, we synthesized results from over 75 manipulative experiments in order to test for patterns in the effects of elevated CO2, warming, and altered precipitation on the abundance of soil biota related to taxonomy, body size, feeding habits, ecosystem type, local climate, treatment magnitude and duration, and greenhouse CO2 enrichment. We found that the positive effect size of elevated CO2 on the abundance of soil biota diminished with time, whereas the negative effect size of warming and positive effect size of precipitation intensified with time. Trophic group, body size, and experimental approaches best explained the responses of soil biota to elevated CO2, whereas local climate and ecosystem type best explained responses to warming and altered precipitation. The abundance of microflora and microfauna, and particularly detritivores, increased with elevated CO2, indicative of microbial C limitation under ambient CO2. However, the effects of CO2 were smaller in field studies than in greenhouse studies and were not significant for higher trophic levels. Effects of warming did not depend on taxon or body size, but reduced abundances were more likely to occur at the colder and drier sites. Precipitation limited all taxa and trophic groups, particularly in forest ecosystems. Our meta-analysis suggests that the responses of soil biota to global change are predictable and unique for each global change factor.


Soil organisms Soil food webs Trophic structure Body size Elevated carbon dioxide Warming Altered precipitation