Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Birch invasion of heather moorland increases nematode diversity and trophic complexity.

Abstract

To determine whether successional changes in plant communities may influence belowground community structure, we quantified nematode abundance, trophic structure and diversity along two separate chronosequences from heather moorland to birch woodland in the Scottish uplands. Tree invasion markedly altered plant community composition, and hence litter inputs, both directly, and indirectly through changes in understorey species. In turn, these changes in detrital inputs were reflected in consistent changes in nematode community structure. Nematode abundance increased from moorland to birch woodland, with moorland soils being dominated by a few taxa, notably root-hair and fungal feeders, compared to the more diverse composition of the birch woodland soils. Trophic structure was altered through an increase in the abundance of bacterial feeding relative to fungal-feeding nematodes, and an increase in the abundance of predatory nematodes. The increase in predators during the succession from moorland to woodland was associated with an increase in soil pH, highlighting that not only changes in the plant community, but also changes in soil properties associated with tree invasion may influence soil nematodes. Nematode diversity increased from moorland to birch woodland, with nematode richness being positively related to both plant species richness and soil pH. These results suggest that trees may control soil community structure through the manipulation of resources and the soil physico-chemical environment, promoting greater nematode diversity and trophic complexity.