Are soil mite assemblages structured by the identity of native and invasive alien grasses?

TitleAre soil mite assemblages structured by the identity of native and invasive alien grasses?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsJohn, MG, Wall, DH, Hunt, HW
Pagination1314 -1324
Accession NumberKNZ001036

Associations between plants and animals in aboveground communities are often predictable and specific. This has been exploited for the purposes of estimating the diversity of animal species based on the diversity of plant species. The introduction of invasive alien plants into an ecosystem can result in dramatic changes in both the native plant and animal assemblages. Few data exist at the species level to determine whether belowground animal assemblages share the same degree of association to plants.

The hypotheses that soil mites (Acari) form assemblages specifically associated with different native grass species in an unmanipulated natural ecosystem and that invasive alien grasses will impact soil mite assemblage composition in this setting were tested. Soil mites sampled beneath five native and two invasive alien species of grasses at the Konza Prairie Biological Station, Kansas, USA, were similarly abundant, species rich, diverse, and taxonomically distinct. No mite species had affinities for a specific grass species. There was no evidence from analysis of similarity, canonical correspondence analysis, or a nonparametric assemblage analysis that the assemblage composition of soil mites was specific to grass species. Results suggest that soil mite assemblages were more related to characteristics of the plant assemblage as a whole or prevailing soil conditions. The most recent invasive alien grass did not support a successionally younger mite fauna, based on the ratio of mesostigmatid to oribatid mites, and neither of the two invasive grasses influenced mite assemblage structure, possibly because they had not yet substantially altered the soil environment. Our results suggest that extrapolations of soil mite diversity based on assumptions of plant specificity would be invalid.