, Volume 165, Issue 3, pp 553–565 | Cite as

A meta-analysis of responses of soil biota to global change

  • Joseph C. Blankinship
  • Pascal A. Niklaus
  • Bruce A. Hungate
Concepts, Reviews and Syntheses


Global environmental changes are expected to impact the abundance of plants and animals aboveground, but comparably little is known about the responses of belowground organisms. Using meta-analysis, we synthesized results from over 75 manipulative experiments in order to test for patterns in the effects of elevated CO2, warming, and altered precipitation on the abundance of soil biota related to taxonomy, body size, feeding habits, ecosystem type, local climate, treatment magnitude and duration, and greenhouse CO2 enrichment. We found that the positive effect size of elevated CO2 on the abundance of soil biota diminished with time, whereas the negative effect size of warming and positive effect size of precipitation intensified with time. Trophic group, body size, and experimental approaches best explained the responses of soil biota to elevated CO2, whereas local climate and ecosystem type best explained responses to warming and altered precipitation. The abundance of microflora and microfauna, and particularly detritivores, increased with elevated CO2, indicative of microbial C limitation under ambient CO2. However, the effects of CO2 were smaller in field studies than in greenhouse studies and were not significant for higher trophic levels. Effects of warming did not depend on taxon or body size, but reduced abundances were more likely to occur at the colder and drier sites. Precipitation limited all taxa and trophic groups, particularly in forest ecosystems. Our meta-analysis suggests that the responses of soil biota to global change are predictable and unique for each global change factor.


Soil organisms Soil food webs Trophic structure Body size Elevated carbon dioxide Warming Altered precipitation 



Thanks to helpful comments from participants, including J. Gurevitch and M. Rosenberg, during the organized oral session on "Synthesizing ecological studies in a changing world using meta-analysis" at the Summer 2007 ESA Meeting in San Jose, CA, USA. Thanks to B. Duval and T. Wojtowicz for their help in editing and adding clarity. Thanks to S. Hart, M. Watwood, and the invaluable comments from four anonymous reviewers from previous drafts of this manuscript. This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation (DEB-0092642).

Supplementary material

442_2011_1909_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (70 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDD 71 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph C. Blankinship
    • 1
    • 2
  • Pascal A. Niklaus
    • 3
  • Bruce A. Hungate
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  2. 2.School of Natural Sciences and Sierra Nevada Research InstituteUniversity of CaliforniaMercedUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental StudiesUniversity of ZürichZurichSwitzerland
  4. 4.Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental ResearchNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA

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