Plant functional diversity drives niche-size-structure of dominant microbial consumers along a poor to extremely rich fen gradient

1. Plant community composition is recognized more and more for playing an important role in ecosystem processes, such as C cycling. In particular, plant functional type (PFT) composition seems to have a key regulatory role, yet the underlying mechanisms in the interaction between PFTs and ecosystem processes are still to be identified. 2. Here, we assess the link between PFTs and dominant microbial consumers along a calcareous poor to extremely rich fen gradient in western Poland. We particularly focussed on dominant microbial consumers (testate amoebae), which can exert large effects on the functioning of peatlands. Using moving-window analyses and path-relation networks subjected to structural equation modelling (SEM), we investigated linkages among abiotic factors, PFTs and testate amoebae. 3. We show that along the poor to extremely rich fen gradient, the dependence of testate amoebae to PFTs is higher than their dependence to abiotic factors. We also found that the link between testate amoebae and PFTs differs between size assemblages of testate amoebae. While large testate amoeba species (i.e. high trophic level) were highly linked to Sphagnum mosses cover, small species (i.e. low trophic level) were linked to brown mosses. Distinction between shallow-rooted and deep-rooted vascular plants also showed that shallow-rooted plants play a role on testate amoeba community structure at the 'poor' side of the gradient. 4. Our results further show a dominant role for calcium content and the structure of the bryophyte community on testate amoeba size assemblages at the poor to extremely rich fen scale, both for diversity and abundance of testate amoebae. 5. Synthesis. Variations in plant functional type composition drive niche-size-structure of testate amoebae along the (calcareous) poor to extremely rich fen gradient. Furthermore, strong relationships between moss types and testate amoeba size-structure suggest that mosses specifically influence testate amoeba development through autogenic effects. Therefore, moss cover composition is key to microbial consumers and may be the driving factor determining microbial network structure and associated ecosystem processes, such as carbon cycling.

Published in:
Journal Of Ecology, 102, 5, 1150-1162
Hoboken, Wiley-Blackwell

 Record created 2014-10-23, last modified 2018-03-17

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