During November and December scientists at 32 sites in 20 countries will gather field collections as part of a global experiment to survey biodiversity in litter (the layer of plant debris on the soil surface) and its role in an important ecosystem function, decomposition.
As part of the Global Litter Invertebrate Decomposition Experiment (GLIDE), last August and September the researchers placed mesh bags of leaf litter on the ground of diverse ecosystems, from tropical to boreal forests, and from to savannahs to arctic tundra. Over the next two months they will retrieve a subset of these bags for analysis of global patterns of decomposition and the species involved.
The Chair of GLIDE, Dr. Diana Wall of Colorado State University, USA, expects the study to significantly advance understanding of large-scale distributions of fauna that dwell in soil and litter. Even at small scales, biodiversity in soils and litter is poorly known.
There is not one experimental plot, anywhere in the world, for which all species of soil and litter fauna have been described. The dearth of information on belowground species is partly because of their sheer abundance and diversity.
The species diversity of fauna in litter and soil is likely to be orders of magnitude greater than the more familiar biodiversity aboveground, says Wall. Furthermore, there may be hundreds of species and thousands of individuals in a handful of soil or litter. Collecting and identifying such large numbers of species poses an enormous challenge to soil taxonomists.
Additionally, Wall explains, the majority of these species are not visible to the naked eye since they live in dark underground habitats and many are microscopic. As a result, it is estimated that for many soil and litter taxonomic groups less than 10 percent of species have been described scientifically.
Despite limited knowledge about the identity of individual species of soil and litter biota, soil biolog
Contact: Dr. Gina Adams
International Biodiversity Observation Year