Soils support highly diverse communities, but due to the great spatial complexity at very fine scales and small size of soil organisms, our knowledge of what structures belowground communities remains limited. We used a spatially nested sampling regime (distances between samples of 0.06-122 m) to develop an understanding of the relationship between soil mite and microbial community composition and properties of vegetation and underlying soil within two habitats: birch woodland and heather moorland. We found that variation in community composition of all four biotic groups investigated (Oribatida, Mesostigrnata, fungi and bacteria - thus representing multiple trophic levels) was related to variation in soil properties and vegetation, but also space. These three factors (i.e. vegetation, soil properties and space) accounted for 17-36% of the variation in community composition of the biotic groups. The remaining, rather large, proportion of unexplained variation in community composition (64-87%) is likely to represent either random variation or variation related to unmeasured variables that are not spatially auto-correlated. Soil properties generally explained more variance in belowground communities than could vegetation composition. This should not be interpreted as evidence that soil properties exert a greater influence on belowground communities than vegetation composition per se, as the vegetation composition within a habitat is likely to vary at a larger spatial scale than the soil properties we measured. Vegetation composition had stronger explanatory power in the birch woodland and was more strongly related to fungal community composition than that of any other biotic group, particularly in heather moorland. This relationship may reflect the strong association between plants and their fungal symbionts and pathogens. We conclude that both vegetation composition and variation in soil properties influence belowground communities. However, the relative importance of these two factors depends on both habitat and the type of organism being studied. (c) 2011 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.
- community composition
- soil biota
- soil properties
- spatial distribution
- terminal restriction fragement length polymorphism