Tidal flooding diminishes the effects of livestock grazing on soil micro-food webs in a coastal saltmarsh

Zaichao Yang (Lead Author), Stefanie Nolte, Jihua Wu

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Livestock grazing not only has a direct impact on plant productivity but also exerts an indirect influence on soil biota via various pathways. However, little is known about the effects of livestock grazing on soil food webs in saltmarsh ecosystems that are subject to regular tidal inundation stress. By exclosure experiments established at a frequently inundated middle marsh and a less inundated high marsh of Chongming Island (China), the responses of soil micro-food web components (microorganisms, protozoa, and nematodes) to cattle grazing in intertidal marshes were investigated. In the high marsh, cattle grazing significantly increased the biomass of soil microorganisms, protozoa, and the abundance of total nematodes by 30.0%, 97.3% and 76.2%, respectively, but did not significantly affect their biomass or abundance in the middle marsh. For low-trophic-level nematodes, the abundance of bacterial-feeding and algal-feeding nematodes increased more in the high marsh than in the middle marsh, and that of plant-feeding nematodes decreased more in the high marsh than in the middle marsh under grazing. In contrast, carnivorous and omnivorous nematodes at high trophic levels did not respond to cattle grazing along an elevational gradient. The nematode maturity index and structure index based on nematode functional guilds significantly decreased under grazing along the elevational gradient, suggesting that cattle grazing caused a more simplified and unstable soil micro-food web structure. Overall, low trophic levels in soil micro-food webs were most vulnerable under grazing and the response was strongest in the less inundated high marsh. Thus, cattle grazing leads to different changes in soil ecosystem processes at different elevations. These results indicate that the strength of the biotic grazing effect on soil micro-food webs and ecological functions might also depend on local abiotic disturbance such as tidal inundations in the saltmarsh.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-186
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems & Environment
Early online date9 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes

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