Soil fauna alter the effects of litter composition on nitrogen cycling in a mineral soil

Yolima Carrillo, Becky A. Ball, Mark A. Bradford, Carl F. Jordan, Marirosa Molina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Scopus citations


Plant chemical composition and the soil community are known to influence litter and soil organic matter decomposition. Although these two factors are likely to interact, their mechanisms and outcomes of interaction are not well understood. Studies of their interactive effects are rare and usually focus on carbon dynamics of litter, while nutrient dynamics in the underlying soil have been ignored. A potential mechanism of interaction stems from the role fauna plays in regulating availability of litter-derived materials in the mineral soil. We investigated the role of soil fauna (meso, macro) in determining the effect of surface-litter chemical composition on nitrogen mineralization and on the micro-food web in mineral soils. In a field setting we exposed mineral soil to six types of surface-applied litter spanning wide ranges of multiple quality parameters and restricted the access of larger soil animals to the soils underlying these litters. Over six months we assessed litter mass and nitrogen loss, nitrogen mineralization rates in the mineral soils, and soil microbes and microfauna. We found evidence that the structure of the soil community can alter the effect of surface-litter chemical composition on nitrogen dynamics in the mineral soil. In particular, we found that the presence of members of the meso- and macrofauna can magnify the control of nitrogen mineralization by litter quality and that this effect is time dependent. While fauna were able to affect the size of the micro-food web they did not impact the effect of litter composition on the abundance of the members of the micro-food web. By enhancing the strength of the impact of litter quality on nitrogen dynamics, the larger fauna can alter nitrogen availability and its temporal dynamics which, in turn, can have important implications for ecosystem productivity. These findings contribute to evidence demonstrating that soil fauna shape plant litter effects on ecosystem function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1440-1449
Number of pages10
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2011


  • Bacteria
  • Decomposition
  • Fungi
  • Litter quality
  • Macrofauna
  • Mesofauna
  • Microarthropods
  • Mineralization
  • Nematodes
  • Nitrogen
  • PLFA
  • Soil community
  • Soil fauna

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Soil Science


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