Drought suppresses soil predators and promotes root herbivores in mesic, but not in xeric grasslands

TitleDrought suppresses soil predators and promotes root herbivores in mesic, but not in xeric grasslands
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsFranco A.C, Gherardi LA, de Tomasel CM, Andriuzzi WS, Ankrom KE, E. Shaw A, Bach EM, Sala O.E, Wall D.H.
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Accession NumberJRN55141

Precipitation changes among years and locations along gradients of mean annual precipitation (MAP). The way those changes interact and affect populations of soil organisms from arid to moist environments remains unknown. Temporal and spatial changes in precipitation could lead to shifts in functional composition of soil communities that are involved in key aspects of ecosystem functioning such as ecosystem primary production and carbon cycling. We experimentally reduced and increased growing-season precipitation for 2 y in field plots at arid, semiarid, and mesic grasslands to investigate temporal and spatial precipitation controls on the abundance and community functional composition of soil nematodes, a hyper-abundant and functionally diverse metazoan in terrestrial ecosystems. We found that total nematode abundance decreased with greater growing-season precipitation following increases in the abundance of predaceous nematodes that consumed and limited the abundance of nematodes lower in the trophic structure, including root feeders. The magnitude of these nematode responses to temporal changes in precipitation increased along the spatial gradient of long-term MAP, and significant effects only occurred at the mesic site. Contrary to the temporal pattern, nematode abundance increased with greater long-term MAP along the spatial gradient from arid to mesic grasslands. The projected increase in the frequency of extreme dry years in mesic grasslands will therefore weaken predation pressure belowground and increase populations of root-feeding nematodes, potentially leading to higher levels of plant infestation and plant damage that would exacerbate the negative effect of drought on ecosystem primary production and C cycling.