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Role of Arthropods in Maintaining Soil Fertility

Author

Listed:
  • Thomas W. Culliney

    () (Plant Epidemiology and Risk Analysis Laboratory, Plant Protection and Quarantine, Center for Plant Health Science and Technology, USDA-APHIS, 1730 Varsity Drive, Suite 300, Raleigh, NC 27606, USA)

Abstract

In terms of species richness, arthropods may represent as much as 85% of the soil fauna. They comprise a large proportion of the meso- and macrofauna of the soil. Within the litter/soil system, five groups are chiefly represented: Isopoda, Myriapoda, Insecta, Acari, and Collembola, the latter two being by far the most abundant and diverse. Arthropods function on two of the three broad levels of organization of the soil food web: they are plant litter transformers or ecosystem engineers. Litter transformers fragment, or comminute, and humidify ingested plant debris, which is deposited in feces for further decomposition by micro-organisms, and foster the growth and dispersal of microbial populations. Large quantities of annual litter input may be processed (e.g., up to 60% by termites). The comminuted plant matter in feces presents an increased surface area to attack by micro-organisms, which, through the process of mineralization, convert its organic nutrients into simpler, inorganic compounds available to plants. Ecosystem engineers alter soil structure, mineral and organic matter composition, and hydrology. The burrowing by arthropods, particularly the subterranean network of tunnels and galleries that comprise termite and ant nests, improves soil porosity to provide adequate aeration and water-holding capacity below ground, facilitate root penetration, and prevent surface crusting and erosion of topsoil. Also, the movement of particles from lower horizons to the surface by ants and termites aids in mixing the organic and mineral fractions of the soil. The feces of arthropods are the basis for the formation of soil aggregates and humus, which physically stabilize the soil and increase its capacity to store nutrients.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas W. Culliney, 2013. "Role of Arthropods in Maintaining Soil Fertility," Agriculture, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 3(4), pages 1-31, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jagris:v:3:y:2013:i:4:p:629-659:d:29069
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Chertov, Oleg & Komarov, Alexander & Shaw, Cindy & Bykhovets, Sergey & Frolov, Pavel & Shanin, Vladimir & Grabarnik, Pavel & Priputina, Irina & Zubkova, Elena & Shashkov, Maxim, 2017. "Romul_Hum—A model of soil organic matter formation coupling with soil biota activity. II. Parameterisation of the soil food web biota activity," Ecological Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 345(C), pages 125-139.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    decomposition; detritus; ecosystem engineers; humus; litter transformers; mineralization; nutrients; pedogenesis; pedoturbation;

    JEL classification:

    • Q1 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture
    • Q10 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - General
    • Q11 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Aggregate Supply and Demand Analysis; Prices
    • Q12 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Micro Analysis of Farm Firms, Farm Households, and Farm Input Markets
    • Q13 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agricultural Markets and Marketing; Cooperatives; Agribusiness
    • Q14 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agricultural Finance
    • Q15 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Land Ownership and Tenure; Land Reform; Land Use; Irrigation; Agriculture and Environment
    • Q16 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - R&D; Agricultural Technology; Biofuels; Agricultural Extension Services
    • Q17 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agriculture in International Trade
    • Q18 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Agricultural Policy; Food Policy

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