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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2016

Relative importance of local- and large-scale drivers of alpine soil microarthropod communities

Mitchell, Ruth Joy; Urpeth, Hannah M; Britton, Andrea J; Black, Helaina; Taylor, Astrid


Nitrogen (N) deposition and climate are acknowledged drivers of change in biodiversity and ecosystem function at large scales. However, at a local scale, their impact on functions and community structure of organisms is filtered by drivers like habitat quality and food quality/availability. This study assesses the relative impact of large-scale factors, N deposition and climate (rainfall and temperature), versus local-scale factors of habitat quality and food quality/availability on soil fauna communities at 15 alpine moss-sedge heaths along an N deposition gradient in the UK. Habitat quality and food quality/availability were the primary drivers of microarthropod communities. No direct impacts of N deposition on the microarthropod community were observed, but induced changes in habitat quality (decline in moss cover and depth) and food quality (decreased vegetation C:N) associated with increased N deposition strongly suggest an indirect impact of N. Habitat quality and climate explained variation in the composition of the Oribatida, Mesostigmata, and Collembola communities, while only habitat quality significantly impacted the Prostigmata. Food quality and prey availability were important in explaining the composition of the oribatid and mesostigmatid mite communities, respectively. This study shows that, in alpine habitats, soil microarthropod community structure responds most strongly to local-scale variation in habitat quality and food availability rather than large-scale variation in climate and pollution. However, given the strong links between N deposition and the key habitat quality parameters, we conclude that N deposition indirectly drives changes in the soil microarthropod community, suggesting a mechanism by which large-scale drivers indirectly impacts these functionally important groups.


Climate change; Collembola; Mites; Nitrogen pollution; Racomitrium heath

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2016, Volume: 182, number: 3, pages: 913-924

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG15 Life on land

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