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Do enchytraeid worms and habitat corridors facilitate the colonisation of habitat patches by soil microbes?

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Due to their high abundance and ubiquitous existence, microbes are considered to be efficient colonisers of newly established habitats. To shed light on the dispersal mechanisms of soil microbes, a controlled microcosm experiment was established. In these microcosms, the dispersal of microbes from a source humus patch to originally sterile humus patches (embedded in a mineral soil matrix) was followed for 16 months, applying 16S and 18S ribosomal DNA-based PCR-DGGE molecular methods. Specifically, the role of enchytraeid worms and habitat (humus) corridors as possible facilitators of microbe dispersal was studied. The results showed that enchytraeid worms function efficiently as vectors for horizontal dispersal of saprophytic fungi in soil. Some of the fungi also proved to disperse through the corridors by vegetative growth, although this dispersal was inefficient as compared to dispersal with the enchytraeids. Virtually no saprophytic fungi were able to disperse through the mineral soil matrix in the absence of both enchytraeid worms and corridors. Unlike soil fungi, the dispersal of soil bacteria was not affected by any of the studied factors. The results of the present experiment provide direct evidence of the crucial role of soil fauna in aiding the horizontal dispersal of soil fungi. The role of enchytraeids as a functionally important species in boreal forest soils is further emphasized, since bringing microbes into contact with new resources is likely to enhance the rate of decomposition in soils.

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We thank Leena Kontiola for helping in the assembly of the microcosms and samplings, MaryAnn McLean for providing the cultures of saprophytic soil fungi, Martin Romantschuk for providing the cultures of bacteria and Mika Räty for identifying the enchytraeid worms. The Soil Group at the University of Jyväskylä is acknowledged for invaluable comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by the Academy of Finland [Project number 47946: “Habitat fragmentation and performance of decomposer communities—linking the mechanisms affecting diversity of soil decomposer organisms to tree growth” as part of the Finnish Biodiversity Research Programme, FIBRE (2000–2002)].

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Correspondence to Minna-Liisa Rantalainen.

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Rantalainen, ML., Fritze, H., Haimi, J. et al. Do enchytraeid worms and habitat corridors facilitate the colonisation of habitat patches by soil microbes?. Biol Fertil Soils 39, 200–208 (2004).

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