Responses of soil microarthropods to changes in soil water availability in tallgrass prairie
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Changes in precipitation and soil water availability predicted to accompany global climate change would impact grasslands, where many ecosystem processes are influenced by water availability. Soil biota, including microarthropods, also are affected by soil water content, although little is known about how climate change might affect their abundance and distribution. The goal of this study was to examine soil microarthropod responses to altered soil water availability in tallgrass prairie ecosystems. Two separate experiments were done. The first utilized control and irrigated plots along a topographic gradient to examine the effects of soil water content on microarthropod densities. Microarthropods, mainly Acari, were significantly less abundant in irrigated plots and were generally less abundant at the wetter lowland sites. The second study utilized reciprocal core transplants across an east-west regional precipitation gradient. Large, intact cores were transplanted between a more mesic tallgrass site (Konza Prairie) and a more arid mixed-grass site (Hays) to determine the effects of different soil water regimes on microarthropod abundance and vertical distribution. Data from non-transplanted cores indicated greater total microarthropod densities at the drier Hays site, relative to the wetter Konza Prairie site. Data from the transplanted cores indicated significant effects of location on Acari densities in cores originating from Hays, with higher densities in cores remaining at Hays, relative to those transplanted to Konza. Acari densities in cores originating from Konza were not affected by location; however, oribatid mite densities generally were greater in cores remaining at Konza Prairie. These results confirm the importance of soil water content in affecting microarthropod densities and distributions in grasslands, and suggest complex, non-linear responses to changes in water availability.
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