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Research article2004Peer reviewed

Linking aboveground and belowground communities: the indirect influence of aphid species identity and diversity on a three trophic level soil food web

Wardle DA, Yeates GW, Williamson WM, Bonner KI, Barker GM


There has been a growing recent interest in how foliar herbivory may indirectly affect the belowground sub-system, but little is known about the belowground consequences of the identity, species composition or diversity of foliar herbivores. We performed an experiment, utilising model grassland communities containing three plant species, in which treatments consisted of addition of each of eight aphid species in single and in two- four- and eight-species combinations, as well as an aphid-free treatment. While aphid species treatments did not affect total plant biomass or productivity, aphid species identity had important effects on the relative abundance of the three plant species. This in turn affected the abundances of each of three groups of secondary consumers in the soil food web (bacterial- and fungal-feeding nematodes, and enchytraeids) but not primary consumers (microbes, herbivorous nematodes) or tertiary consumers (predatory nematodes). The fact that some trophic levels responded to treatments while others did not is consistent with trophic dynamic theory. Aphid species treatments also affected the community composition within each of the herbivorous, microbe-feeding and top predatory nematode groups, as well as diversity within the first two of these groups. However, aphid species diversity per se had few effects. There were specific instances in which specific aboveground and belowground response variables in two aphid species combinations differed significantly from those in both of the corresponding single aphid species treatments (apparently as a consequence of resource use complementarity between coexisting aphid species), but no instance in which increasing aphid diversity beyond two species had any effect. Our results provide evidence that the identity of aboveground consumers can have effects that propagate through multiple trophic levels in soil food webs in terms of consumer abundance, and composition and diversity within trophic levels

Published in

2004, Volume: 107, number: 2, pages: 283-294

      SLU Authors

    • Wardle, David

      • Department of Forest Vegetation Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Forest Science

    Publication identifier


    Permanent link to this page (URI)