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Methods and approaches to advance soil macroecology

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  • Hannah J. White, University College Dublin
  • ,
  • Lupe León-Sánchez, Queen's University Belfast
  • ,
  • Victoria J. Burton, Imperial College London, The Natural History Museum, London
  • ,
  • Erin K. Cameron, Saint Mary's University Halifax
  • ,
  • Tancredi Caruso, University College Dublin
  • ,
  • Luís Cunha, University of South Wales, University of Coimbra
  • ,
  • Tara Dirilgen, University College Dublin
  • ,
  • Stephanie D. Jurburg, German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), Leipzig University
  • ,
  • Ruth Kelly, Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute
  • ,
  • Deepak Kumaresan, Queen's University Belfast
  • ,
  • Raúl Ochoa-Hueso, University of Cádiz
  • ,
  • Alejandro Ordonez
  • Helen R.P. Phillips, German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), Leipzig University
  • ,
  • Iván Prieto, CSIC
  • ,
  • Olaf Schmidt
  • Paul Caplat, Queen's University Belfast

Motivation and aim: Soil biodiversity is central to ecosystem function and services. It represents most of terrestrial biodiversity and at least a quarter of all biodiversity on Earth. Yet, research into broad, generalizable spatial and temporal patterns of soil biota has been limited compared to aboveground systems due to complexities of the soil system. We review the literature and identify key considerations necessary to expand soil macroecology beyond the recent surge of global maps of soil taxa, so that we can gain greater insight into the mechanisms and processes shaping soil biodiversity. We focus primarily on three groups of soil taxa (earthworms, mycorrhizal fungi and soil bacteria) that represent a range of body sizes and ecologies, and, therefore, interact with their environment at different spatial scales. Results: The complexities of soil, including fine-scale heterogeneity, 3-D habitat structure, difficulties with taxonomic delimitation, and the wide-ranging ecologies of its inhabitants, require the classical macroecological toolbox to be expanded to consider novel sampling, molecular identification, functional approaches, environmental variables, and modelling techniques. Main conclusions: Soil provides a complex system within which to apply macroecological research, yet, it is this property that itself makes soil macroecology a field ripe for innovative methodologies and approaches. To achieve this, soil-specific data, spatio-temporal, biotic, and abiotic considerations are necessary at all stages of research, from sampling design to statistical analyses. Insights into whole ecosystems and new approaches to link genes, functions and diversity across spatial and temporal scales, alongside methodologies already applied in aboveground macroecology, invasion ecology and aquatic ecology, will facilitate the investigation of macroecological processes in soil biota, which is key to understanding the link between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in terrestrial ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Pages (from-to)1674-1690
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes

    Research areas

  • belowground, biodiversity, distribution, macroecology, soil, spatial scale

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