Soil Nematode Diversity: Species Coexistence and Ecosystem Function


  • Christien H. Ettema


Soil nematode species diversity is often high, both at ecosystem and single soil-core scales. First, how can so many species coexist? There is evidence of niche partitioning, notably of physical space, but vast interspecific overlaps and trait plasticity seem equally common. It appears that coexistence of species with similar resource needs is made possible by small-scale disturbance and predation, which likely reduce local population sizes and interspecific competition. Regional processes such as dispersal, large-scale disturbance, and aggregation, which govern ecosystem level diversity, may also affect local species interactions and soil-core scale diversity. Second, what is the significance of having so many species, with so few trophic functions, for ecosystem processes? Focusing on bacterivore diversity, it is clear that species contributions to decomposition, likely to differ as a function of individual biologies, are concealed by the trophic group approach. However, considerable functional redundancy probably exists, which may explain why decomposition processes are maintained in highly disturbed soils despite the extinction of many species. Thus, soil nematode diversity is important for the long-term stability of soil functioning, and merits protection and further study. Key words: biodiversity, disturbance, ecology, ecosystem function, functional redundancy, nematode, niche partitioning, soil, species coexistence, species diversity, trophic groups.