Nonlinear responses of soil nematode community composition to increasing aridity

Dan Xiong, Cun Zheng Wei, Jasper E.R. Wubs, G.J. Veen, Wenju Liang, Xiaobo Wang, Qi Li*, Wim H. Van der Putten, Xingguo Han

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Aim: Increasing aridity under global change is predicted to have a profound impact on the structure and functioning of terrestrial ecosystems, yet we have a poor understanding of how belowground communities respond. In order to understand the longer term responses of different trophic levels in the soil food web to increasing aridity, we investigated the abundance, richness and community similarity of the soil nematode community along a 3,200 km aridity gradient. Location: A transect across semi-arid and arid grasslands in Northern China, where the aridity ranges from.43 to.97. Time period: July and August 2012. Major taxa studied: Soil-borne Nematoda. Methods: We used generalized additive (mixed) models to analyse the abundance, richness and community similarity patterns of soil nematodes. We used structural equation modelling (SEM) to disentangle the direct and indirect environmental drivers (aridity, soil and plant variables) of the nematode community. Results: The abundance, richness and similarity of nematode communities declined nonlinearly with increasing aridity. The most pronounced decline in nematode richness and community similarity occurred in arid conditions (aridity >.80). However, the shape of the response to aridity differed among nematode feeding groups. In arid conditions, the abundance and richness of bacterial feeders were less sensitive to changes in aridity than for fungal feeders. The SEM analysis revealed that nematode community responses to aridity were not mediated via changes in plant and soil variables, but instead were affected directly by aridity. Main conclusions: Our results showed that in mesic grasslands, increasing aridity primarily caused a decline in nematode abundance, whereas increasing aridity in xeric grasslands led to a loss of nematode diversity. The nonlinear responses of nematodes to aridity could also result in nonlinear shifts in ecosystem functioning, because soil nematodes operate at various trophic levels in the soil food web, thereby influencing the performance of plants, soil biodiversity and biogeochemical cycling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-126
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number1
Early online date11 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • aridity
  • biodiversity
  • global climate change
  • grassland transect
  • nonlinear response
  • soil nematode community


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