, Volume 82, Issue 1, pp 128–136 | Cite as

The soil fauna of a beech forest on limestone: trophic structure and energy budget

  • Matthias Schaefer
Original Papers


The soil fauna of a mull beech forest on lime-stone in southern Lower Saxony (West Germany) was sampled quantitatively. Biomass estimates, trophic characteristics, and measurement and calculation of the energetic parameters of the constituent animal populations were used to construct an energy budget of the total heterotrophic subsystem of the forest. Mean annual zoomass amounted to about 15 g d wt m−2; earthworms (about 10 g d wt m−2) and other groups of the macrofauna were dominant. Protozoa constituted about 1.5 g d wt m−2. Relative distribution of zoomass among the trophic categories was 50% macrosaprophages, 30% microsaprophages, 12% microphytophages, and 4% zoophages. Total annual consumption rate of the saprophagous and microphytophagous soil fauna (6328 and 4096 kJ m−2 yr−1, respectively) was of the same order of magnitude as annual litter fall (canopy leaves 6124 kJ m−2 yr−1, flowers and fruits 944 kJ m−2 yr−1, herbs 1839 kJ m−2 yr−1, fine woody material 870 kJ m−2 yr−1, tree roots 3404 kJ m−2 yr−1, without coarse woody litter). Primary decomposers (macrosaprophages) were the key group for litter comminution and translocation onto and into the soil, thus contributing to the high decomposition rate (k=0.8) for leaf litter. Consumption rates of the other trophic groups were (values as kJ m−2 yr−1): bacteriophages 2954, micromycophages 416, zoophages 153. Grazing pressure of macrophytophages (including rhizophages) was low. Faeces input from the canopy layer was not significant. Grazing pressure on soil microflora almost equalled microbial biomass; hence, a large fraction of microbial production is channelled into the animal component. Predator pressure on soil animals is high, as a comparison between consumption rates by zoophages and production by potential prey — mainly microsaprophages, microphytophages and zoophages — demonstrated. Soil animals contributed only about 11% to heterotrophic respiration. However, there is evidence that animals are important driving variables for matter and energy transfer: key processes are the transformation of dead organic material and grazing on the microflora. It is hypothesized that the soil macrosaprophages are donor-limited.

Key words

Soil fauna Beech forest Mull soil Trophic structure Energy budget 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthias Schaefer
    • 1
  1. 1.II. Zoologisches Institut, Abteilung ÖkologieUniversität GöttingenGöttingenGermany

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