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Roots rather than shoot residues drive soil arthropod communities of arable fields


Soil food webs are driven by plant-derived carbon (C) entering the soil belowground as rhizodeposits or aboveground via leaf litter, with recent research pointing to a higher importance of the former for driving forest soil food webs. Using natural abundance stable isotopes of wheat (C3 plant) and maize (C4 plant), we followed and quantified the incorporation of shoot residue- and root-derived maize C into the soil animal food web of an arable field for 1 year, thereby disentangling the importance of shoot residue- versus root-derived resources for arable soil food webs. On average, shoot residue-derived resources only contributed less than 12 % to soil arthropod body C, while incorporation of root-derived resources averaged 26 % after 2 months of maize crop and increased to 32 % after 1 year. However, incorporation of root-derived maize C did not consistently increase with time: rather, it increased, decreased or remained constant depending on species. Further, preference of shoot residue- or root-derived resources was also species-specific with about half the species incorporating mainly root-derived C, while only a few species preferentially incorporated shoot residue-derived C, and about 40 % incorporated both shoot residue- as well as root-derived C. The results highlight the predominant importance of root-derived resources for arable soil food webs and suggest that shoot residues only form an additional resource of minor importance. Variation in the use of plant-derived C between soil arthropod species suggests that the flux of C through soil food webs of arable systems can only be disentangled by adopting a species-specific approach.

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We thank Reinhard Langel (Kompetenzzentrum Stabile Isotope, University of Göttingen) for analysis of stable isotopes. Thanks to Bernhard Klarner and Verena Eißfeller for help in identifying Gamasida and Oribatida, respectively, and to Sarah Zieger for advice in using R. Many students helped in taking samples in the field, harvesting maize and adding maize residues. Financial support was provided by the German Research Foundation (DFG) within the Research Unit “Carbon flow in belowground food webs assessed by isotope tracers” (FOR 918).

Author contribution statement

SS and OB designed the experiment. NS and OB conducted fieldwork. NS identified species and prepared stable isotope analyses. NS and CD performed statistical analyses. NS, OB and SS wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Nicole Scheunemann.

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S. Scheu and O. Butenschoen contributed equally.

Communicated by Evan Siemann.

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Scheunemann, N., Digel, C., Scheu, S. et al. Roots rather than shoot residues drive soil arthropod communities of arable fields. Oecologia 179, 1135–1145 (2015).

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  • Aboveground
  • Belowground
  • 13C
  • Maize residues
  • Food web
  • Carbon flux