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Integrating soil macroinvertebrate diversity, litter decomposition and secondary succession in a tropical montane cloud forest in Mexico

Integrating soil macroinvertebrate diversity, litter decomposition and secondary succession in a tropical montane cloud forest in Mexico
Simoneta Negrete-Yankelevich


School of GeoScience, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9YL, UNITED KINGDOM.


This research considers human impacts on three components of biodiversity (composition, spatial structure and function). Given the relict character and unusual biogeochemical balance of tropical montane cloud forests in Mexico, logging poses a pressing threat to their survival. Specifically, this thesis explores the effect of selective logging and above-ground secondary succession on the biogeochemical cycling and soil macroinvertebrate community in a cloud forest in Oaxaca, Mexico. The research investigates: (1) whether the above-ground chain of successional changes in tree dominance, litterfall, litter diversity and soil microenvironmental conditions are coupled with a belowground succession of soil nutrient availability and macroinvertebrate communities, (2) the role of spatial structuring of environmental conditions and litter resources as determinants of the nutrient availability and macroinvertebrate taxa abundance, (3) the implications of successional changes for decomposition and (4) whether the local influence of single trees explains the spatial structure of macroinvertebrate communities in late successional forests.

The work was carried out in three chronosequences (c. 15, 45, 75 and 100 year-old stages) of high altitude (1500-2000 m) tropical montane cloud forest, two recently logged sites and two pristine sites. The macroinvertebrates in the litter and mineral soil were hand sorted from monoliths. Parametric statistics and canonical correspondence analysis were used to determine mean successional trends, and Spatial Analysis by Distance Indices and geostatistical methods were used in combination to determine spatial patterns. Two decomposition experiments were performed to explore the relationship between decomposition rate, litter quality and macroinvertebrate community higher taxa composition in different successional stages and under the canopy of different tree species. The research showed that:
  1. The macroinvertebrate community composition in both recently logged sites and pristine forests were distinct compared to secondary successional stages. A decrease in soil temperature and nutrient availability but increase in litter diversity and soil organic matter recorded through succession were accompanied by an increase in the number of macroinvertebrate taxa in the soil. For example, Collembola were most abundant in recently logged sites and earthworms (Megascolecidae) were almost exclusively found in the pristine forests.
  2. The oldest secondary forest (100-year-old) showed the highest frequency of aggregation in the abundance of individual macroinvertebrate taxa, and the highest and most uniform value of Shannon’s diversity. This suggests that high levels of diversity in litter resources and soil chemistry in late succession are associated with complex spatial structuring of highly diverse macroinvertebrate communities.
  3. The leaves of a late successional species (Persea americana) decomposed at a slightly slower rate than an early successional species (Pinus chiapensis) in all successional stages, yet the number and Shannon’s diversity of macroinvertebrate taxa that invaded decomposing P. americana leaves was consistently higher. The preference of macroinvertebrate taxa for the late-successional leaves was ultimately explained by differences in leaf quality during decomposition. P. americana leaves had higher concentrations of cations throughout decomposition and their concentration of lignin and nitrogen became higher.
  4. In the 100-year-old forest, the effect of seasonal variation on soil microenvironmental conditions and litter availability was different under the canopy of different tree species. Furthermore, the chemical evolution of the same leaf type (e.g. Oreopanax xalapensis) was different when decomposing under different canopies. The highly diverse and spatially complex macroinvertebrate community found in late succession (and experimental litter) was largely explained by the interactive effects of seasonal variation, tree species, litter quality and availability of the decomposing leaf type.

These results provide the first analysis of the relationship between soil biodiversity and the tight biogeochemical cycling in this relict ecosystem type. Overall the results indicate that mature cloud forests sustain a diverse and spatially heterogeneous macroinvertebrate community. The compositional and spatial components of soil biodiversity are compromised by logging and full recovery may take more than 100 years.