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Are tree trunks habitats or highways? A comparison of oribatid mite assemblages from hoop-pine bark and litter

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Oribatid mites (Acari: Oribatida) are among the most diverse and abundant inhabitants of forest soil and litter, but also have species-rich assemblages on bark and in the canopies of trees. It is unclear whether the trunk of a tree acts simply as a ‘highway’ for movement of mites into and out of the canopy, or whether the trunk has a distinctive acarofauna. We compare oribatid assemblages from the trunk bark of hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) with those from litter collected beneath the same trees. A 1.0 by 0.5 m area of bark was sampled from three trees at each of five sites using a knockdown insecticide. A 1-L sample of leaf litter was collected as close as possible to the base of each sampled tree. Mites were extracted using Tullgren funnels, identified to genus and morphospecies, and counted. Assemblages were almost 100% distinct, with only one oribatid morphospecies (Pseudotocepheus sp.) collected from both litter and bark. Litter had a higher taxon richness than bark in total and per sample, but oribatids made up a greater percentage of the acarofauna in the bark samples. We had expected that the more consistent physical substrate of bark would be reflected in greater similarity of oribatid faunas on trunks than in litter; however, the opposite proved to be the case. We conclude that hoop-pine trunks are habitats rather than highways for oribatid mites. Based on the observed higher turnover among bark faunas, tree trunks may represent habitat islands whose colonisation by particular oribatid species is more stochastic than that of the more continuous ‘sea’ of litter.
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Keywords: arboreal arthropods; corticolous habitat; species turnover

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Australian School of Environmental Studies, Griffith University, Nathan, Qld 4111, Australia. 2: Fire Ant Control Centre, Queensland Department of Primary Industries, 280 Grindle Road, Wacol, Qld 4076, Australia. 3: Native Vegetation Systems Development, NSW Department of Land and Water Conservation, Sydney, NSW 2001, Australia.

Publication date: November 1, 2002

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