Plant and Soil

, Volume 225, Issue 1–2, pp 153–165

Influence of decomposer food web structure and nitrogen availability on plant growth

  • Jouni Laakso
  • Heikki Setälä
  • Ansa Palojärvi

DOI: 10.1023/A:1026534812422

Cite this article as:
Laakso, J., Setälä, H. & Palojärvi, A. Plant and Soil (2000) 225: 153. doi:10.1023/A:1026534812422


We studied the sensitivity of soil microbial communities and ecosystem processes to variation in the vertical and horizontal structure of decomposer food web under nitrogen poor and N-enriched conditions. Microcosms with humus and litter layer of boreal forest floor, birch seedlings infected with mycorrhizal fungi, and decomposer food webs with differing trophic group and species composition of soil fauna were constructed. During the second growing period for the birch, we irrigated half of the microcosms with urea solution, and the other half with de-ionised water to create two levels of N concentration in the substrate. During the experiment night time respirations of the microcosms were measured, and the water leached through the microcosms was analysed for concentration of mineral N, and nematode numbers. The microcosms were destructively sampled after 37 weeks for plant biomass and N uptake, structure of soil animal and microbial community (indicated by PLFA profiles), and physical and chemical properties of the humus and litter materials. Predatory mites and nematodes had a negative influence on the biomass of their microbivorous and microbi-detritivorous prey, and microbi-detritivores affected the biomass and community structure of microbes (indicated by PLFA-analysis). Moreover, predatory mites and nematodes increased microbial biomass and changed the microbial community structure. The decomposer food web structure affected also N uptake and growth of plants. Microbi-detritivorous fauna had a positive effect, whereas predators of microbial and detritus feeding fauna exerted a negative influence on plant N uptake and biomass production. The impact of a trophic group on the microbes and plant was also strongly dependent on species composition within the group. Nitrogen addition magnified the influence of food web structure on microbial biomass and plant N uptake. We suggest that addition of urea-N to the soil modified the animal-microbe interaction by increasing microbial growth and altering community structure of microbes. The presence of microbi-detritivores and predators reduced loss of carbon from the microcosms, and the food web structure influenced also water holding capacity of the materials. The changes in plant growth, nutrient cycling, size of N and C pools, and in the physical properties of the soil emphasize the importance and diversity of indirect consequences of decomposer food web structure.

carbon decomposer food web indirect effects microbes nitrogen plant growth 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jouni Laakso
    • 1
  • Heikki Setälä
    • 2
  • Ansa Palojärvi
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Biological and Environmental ScienceUniversity of JyväskyläJyväskyläFinland
  2. 2.Department of Biological and Environmental ScienceUniversity of JyväskyläJyväskyläFinland
  3. 3.Agricultural Research Centre of FinlandJokioinenFinland

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