Testate amoebae communities in the rhizosphere of Rhododendron ponticum (Ericaceae) in an evergreen broadleaf forest in southern Spain.
Testate amoebae (TA) are an important part of soil microbial communities and in certain ecosystems they may represent a substantial proportion of total microbial biomass. Their distribution and abundance is driven by various abiotic factors (e.g., pH, organic matter, soil moisture, soil/water chemistry) but comparatively less is known about the role of biotic interactions. TA often co-occur with Ericaceae, a ubiquitous plant family inhabiting acidic soils with poor nutrient status. Ericaceae can significantly change soil properties through production of recalcitrant litter and possibly also due to root exudates and activities of root-inhabiting fungi; this may result in profound modifications of microbial communities. A recent study from northwest England showed that the invasive ericaceous shrub Rhododendron ponticum may significantly modify communities of soil TA. Here, we investigate the effect of pH, organic matter, and R. ponticum presence on TA communities within the native range of the ericaceous shrub at two sites in southern Spain and compare our results with the previous study from NW England. At the Spanish sites, organic matter content, R. ponticum presence and pH affected occurrence and abundance of several TA species; R. ponticum presence and organic matter content were highly correlated and explained most of the observed variability in TA communities (i.e. the effect of the R. ponticum rhizosphere). R. ponticum rhizosphere affected especially TA with relatively large tests, i.e., Cyclopyxis eurystoma, Phryganella acropodia and Trigonopyxis arcula. Interestingly, T. arcula was also positively associated with R. ponticum in the previously studied British sites. The rhizosphere of the ericaceous shrub appears to have a positive effect on testate amoebae taxon richness at the two studied autochthonous Spanish sites but may reduce taxon richness in the sites in Britain where R. ponticum is an introduced species. Such possible positive/negative effects of native/invasive species, as well as other plant guilds, on TA communities clearly deserve further investigation.