Ecosystems &Biodiversity

Soil Ecosystems

1

Practical 1 Soil ecosystems - soil biota and food webs
Reading
Coyne M.S. 1999. Soil Microbiology. Delmar Publishers. Ch. 4 The macrofauna. Soil Biology Primer [online]. http://soils.usda.gov/sqi/concepts/soil_biology/ Chapter 1 The soil food web Chapter 2 The food web and soil health also check the DSO Resources folder for other references.

Introduction
An ecosystem is made up of plants, animals (biodiversity) and abiotic factors which work together to capture, store and transfer energy, nutrients and water. For example plants “capture” energy via photosynthesis and energy is stored as carbohydrates in plants or fats and proteins in animals after they have eaten the plants. Soil organisms break down plant and animal tissues and transfer the energy to themselves, while returning nutrients to the soil for uptake by plants. The many organisms in an ecosystem carry out these ecosystem functions, and the more diverse an ecosystem is, the more stable and reliable are these functions. The soil provides a good, easily studied example of an ecosystem.

The Task Assessing macrofauna
1.1
Macrofauna accelerate the rate of organic matter decomposition. They break

organic material into smaller pieces, and mix organic matter with soil. However, the relative numbers of macrofauna to microfauna in the soil is small. Collect a sample of the leaf litter (O Horizon) and topsoil (A Horizon – no deeper than about 3cm) from two different locations. Choose from lawn, native vegetation, garden bed, under different species of tree etc. or other distinctive site. Place the sample in plastic bags, seal them and label them with your name and the collection location. At each site, record

you will be able to directly compare the macrofauna abundance between the two sites. heavy clay etc) Site 2 On return to the lab. then use this to compare the soil habitat of the two sites. skip that characteristic.Ecosystems &Biodiversity Soil Ecosystems 2 the type of vegetation at the site (eg.) and some of the site characteristics in the table below. and remove after about 2 days. pH kit or soil penetrometer). forest. Tulgren-type funnels for the extraction of soil fauna . then remove the preserving jar containing ethanol and screw on the lid. lawn etc. Leave it for about 2 days. If you do not have the equipment necessary (eg. Place the sample from the second location in the Tulgren funnel. If you know the volume of soil you examined. Site Characteristic Site 1 type of vegetation level of shade soil dryness/dampness soil pH soil compactness soil texture (sandy. following the same procedure. swamp. mix the soil and leaf litter sample from the same location thoroughly. Put a known volume of one sample in the Tulgren funnel.

Count the number of individuals from each Order or group (as far as possible).3 (a) larger macrofauna number @ location 1 soil volume = ____ Macrofauna Order or group number @ location 2 soil volume = ____ 1. but at least put them into different groups (ie.).Ecosystems &Biodiversity Soil Ecosystems 3 1. If you have large numbers you may need to estimate the number rather than try to count them all. Count the number of individuals from each Order or group. Remove any fauna found to a clean jar or petri dish for identification. group B 8 legs – spiders and mites etc. and identify as many organisms as possible to Order or group. Identify all organisms to Order if possible.2 From the bags. examine a measured volume of the leaf litter (O Horizon) and the topsoil (A Horizon) using a microscope or hand lense.4 Empty the contents of the collecting jar into a petri dish. 1. . group A no legs – worms.

Ecosystems &Biodiversity Soil Ecosystems 4 (b) smaller macrofauna Macrofauna Order or group number @ location 1 soil volume = ____ number @ location 2 soil volume = ____ .

individuals of group B per litre of soil/litter per litre of soil/litter per litre of soil/litter 15 7 location 1 location 2 .2 and 1. individuals of no.Ecosystems &Biodiversity Soil Ecosystems 5 1.5 Use the results from both counts (1. Macrofauna number of Orders or groups per litre of soil/litter eg.3) and calculate the number of Orders or groups per litre of soil and leaf litter. no. individuals of no. and the numbers of individuals from each Order or group per litre of soil and leaf litter.

leaf shredder etc) and describe which way the energy “flows” eg. and a brief discussion (about 600 words) of the following questions. . but it must be correctly referenced. • How did the diversity (number of groups and number of individuals) of macrofauna from the soils from the two locations differ ? Can you suggest why there might be differences. nematode etc. fungi. • On the food web diagram provided. This report can be written as a “question and answer” style.Ecosystems &Biodiversity Soil Ecosystems 6 Your Report . What happens to the energy and nutrients when the organisms at the top of the food chain die? Include this diagram with your report. label the type of biota (eg.). the top of the food chain). where does it first get “captured” and where does it “finish” (ie. You must also include a summary table of your results.Explaining the role of the soil biota Your report should have a title. what they do (predator. What soil parameters could you have measured which may help explain the differences ? • Explain the role of macrofauna in the soil. a brief introduction explaining what the prac is about.

. Explain how our land management practices alter soil health.Ecosystems &Biodiversity Soil Ecosystems 7 • What groups of organisms make up the mesofauna ? What groups make up the microfauna? What are the main functions of these two main groups ? • Food webs can indicate the biological complexity. This report is worth 10% of your total mark. • Explain how the soil biota contribute to the functioning of the soil ecosystem. of the soil. and therefore the health. What ecosystem services do they regulate ? Due Date Check the Assessment Details File for the date.

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