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Differences in litter mass change mite assemblage structure on a deciduous forest floor

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Few mechanisms that determine the assemblage structure of mites have been identified. Whilst the relative abundance of soil fauna is known to change with humus form, the degree to which the quantity of litter inputs play a part in these changes has not been investigated. We tested the response of oribatid and mesostigmatid mites in litter and soil layers to increasing levels of birch Betula pubescens litter to test whether litter mass could affect the mite assemblage. Six litter treatments (1, 2, 4, 8 and 12√ónatural litter mass and complete litter removal) were established in November 2004 and the soil and litter communities sampled in October 2005. Species composition of oribatids was distinct for the soil and litter. There was no apparent effect of increasing litter mass on the soil mite assemblage. In the litter layer, the number of oribatids g−1 of litter showed a strong negative relationship with increasing litter mass whilst the number of mesostigmatids g−1 of litter was unresponsive to litter mass. Hence, the relative abundance of these two groups altered with increasing litter mass. The response of the oribatid groups Oppiidae and Poronota followed this negative relationship with litter mass but Phthiracaridae appeared less affected. Consequently, there was a subtle shift in the relative abundance of these groups with increasing litter mass. Our results demonstrate that oribatids as a whole and within groups respond in a predictable manner to increases in litter mass whilst mesostigmatids are unresponsive. Whilst there are undoubtedly biological and physical aspects that vary with litter mass, litter mass itself, is able to explain some patterns in the assemblage of oribatid mites.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2006

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