Vegetation and vertebrate abundance as drivers of bioturbation patterns along a climate gradient

Kraus, Diana; Brandl, Roland; Achilles, Sebastian; Bendix, Jörg; Grigusova, Paulina; Larsen, Annegret; Pliscoff, Patricio; Übernickel, Kirstin; Farwig, Nina


Bioturbators shape their environment with considerable consequences for ecosystem processes. However, both the composition and the impact of bioturbator communities may change along climatic gradients. For burrowing animals, their abundance and composition depend on climatic and other abiotic components, with ants and mammals dominating in arid and semiarid areas, and earthworms in humid areas. Moreover, the activity of burrowing animals is often positively associated with vegetation cover (biotic component). These observations highlight the need to understand the relative contributions of abiotic and biotic components in bioturbation in order to predict soil-shaping processes along broad climatic gradients. In this study, we estimated the activity of animal bioturbation by counting the density of holes and the quantity of bioturbation based on the volume of soil excavated by bioturbators along a gradient ranging from arid to humid in Chile. We distinguished between invertebrates and vertebrates. Overall, hole density (no/ 100 m2) decreased from arid (raw mean and standard deviation for invertebrates: 14 ± 7.8, vertebrates: 2.8 ± 2.9) to humid (invertebrates: 2.8 ± 3.1, vertebrates: 2.2 ± 2.1) environments. However, excavated soil volume did not follow the same clear geographic trend and was 300-fold larger for vertebrates than for invertebrates. The relationship between bioturbating invertebrates and vegetation cover was consistently negative whereas for vertebrates both, positive and negative relationships were determined along the gradient. Our study demonstrates complex relationships between climate, vegetation and the contribution of bioturbating invertebrates and vertebrates, which will be reflected in their impact on ecosystem functions.