Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 1–6 | Cite as

Abiotic controls on the functional structure of soil food webs

  • Walter G. Whitford


The hypothesis that the trophic structure of soil food webs changes as a result of the abiotic environment was examined by reviewing studies of soil biota. In dry soils with a water potential below −1.5 MPa, most bacteria, protozoans, and many species of nematodes are not active. These taxa persist in the soil in a state of anhydrobiosis. Because soil fungi grow at soil water potentials of −6.0 to −8.0 MPa, soil food webs in dry environments appear to be fungal-based and fungal grazers in dry environments appear to be predominantly fungiphagous mites. There is indirect evidence that some species of fungiphagous mites remain inactive in dry soils in a state of “cryptobiosis”. In habitats where there is insufficient vegetative cover to shade and modify the soil surface, the functional soil food web consists of fungi and a few taxa of soil acari for extended periods of time.


Bacteria Fungi Protozoans Nematodes Mites Water potential “Cryptobiosis” Anhydrobiosis Trophic structure Food web 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Walter G. Whitford
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyNew Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA

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