Interactions between microbial-feeding and predatory soil fauna trigger N2O emissions

Thakur, M.P.; Groenigen, J.W. van; Kuiper, I.; Deyn, G.B. de


Recent research has shown that microbial-feeding invertebrate soil fauna species can significantly contribute to N2O emissions. However, in soil food webs microbial-feeding soil fauna interact with each other and with their predators, which affects microbial activity. To date we lack empirical tests of whether or not these interactions play a significant role in N2O emissions from soil. Therefore we studied how interactions between soil microbes, two groups of microbial-feeding soil fauna (enchytraeids and fungivorous mites) and their predators (predatory mites) affect soil N2O emissions. We hypothesized that: 1) the presence of two microbial-feeding fauna groups (enchytraeids and fungivorous mites) together increase N2O emissions more than when only a single group is present; and 2) the addition of predatory mites further enhances N2O emissions. We assembled soil food webs consisting of soil microbes, enchytraeids, fungivorous and predatory mites in microcosms with sandy loamy soil and sterilised hay as a substrate for the soil microbes. N2O emissions were measured during 56 days. We found no support for our first yet support for our second hypothesis. Addition of predatory mites to microcosms with enchytraeids and fungivorous mites increased N2O emissions significantly from 135.3 to 482.1 mg N m-2, which was also significantly higher than the control without fauna (83 mg N m-2) (P <0.001). In presence of enchytraeids, fungivorous and predatory mites, we found much higher nitrate availability at the time of the N2O peak on Day 35 (10.9 versus 5.5 mg N per kg soil without soil fauna), indicating that the major increase in N2O emissions in this treatment may be due to increased nitrification. Increased nitrification may be attributed to higher availability of N from the dead tissues of fungivorous mites and increased activity of the enchytraeids that might also have affected soil structure and contributed to increased N2O emissions. This study demonstrates the importance of interactions between microbial-feeding invertebrate soil fauna and their predators in understanding N2O emissions.