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Ungulates, smaller mammals, and invertebrates can each affect soil biota through their influence on vegetation and soil characteristics. However, direct and indirect effects of the aboveground biota on soil food webs remain to be unraveled. We assessed effects of progressively excluding aboveground large-, medium- and small-sized mammals as well as invertebrates on soil nematode diversity and feeding type abundances in two subalpine grassland types: short- and tall-grass vegetation. We explored pathways that link exclusions of aboveground biota to nematode feeding type abundances via changes in plants, soil environment, soil microbial biomass, and soil nutrients.


In both vegetation types, exclusions caused a similar shift toward higher abundance of all nematode feeding types, except plant feeders, lower Shannon diversity, and lower evenness. These effects were strongest when small mammals, or both small mammals and invertebrates were excluded in addition to excluding larger mammals. Exclusions resulted in a changed abiotic soil environment that only affected nematodes in the short-grass vegetation. In each vegetation type, exclusion effects on nematode abundances were mediated by different drivers related to plant quantity and quality. In the short-grass vegetation, not all exclusion effects on omni–carnivorous nematodes were mediated by the abundance of lower trophic level nematodes, suggesting that omni–carnivores also depended on other prey than nematodes.


We conclude that small aboveground herbivores have major impacts on the soil food web of subalpine short- and tall-grass ecosystems. Excluding aboveground animals caused similar shifts in soil nematode assemblages in both subalpine vegetation types, however, mechanisms turned out to be system-specific.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-223
JournalOikos
Volume126
Issue number2
Early online date11 Aug 2016
DOI
StatePublished - Feb 2017

    Research areas

  • international

ID: 4119273