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Ecology and trophic structure of the Alpine soil macrofauna

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Ecology and trophic structure of the Alpine soil macrofauna
01.07.2015 - 31.12.2019

In 2015, the „International Year of Soils“, there is still the need to shed more light on the complex processes within the ecosystem below our feet. Especially, knowledge about Alpine soil systems is scarce. Semi-natural grasslands, widespread in the Alps, nowadays suffer from rapid environmental and socio-economic changes such as climate change and temperature rise, as well as cessation of traditional extensive management. The soil and epigeic macrofauna of these ecosystems play a crucial role in litter decomposition and pedogenesis, and thus contribute to the resistance against natural hazards. In a first step, we will investigate the species composition and trophic structure of Alpine soil systems using an extensive and broad-viewed sampling approach and including classic and modern methods. The sampling will be conducted in the representative LT(S)ER area Matschertal / Val Mazia located in the Central Alps in South Tyrol, Italy. In a second step, we assess the role of soil invertebrates in important ecosystem functions, especially litter decomposition. Furthermore, we analyse the community composition of soil invertebrates in vineyards, snowbeds, larch and stone pine forests.

Project Description

1. Background

The year 2015 is designated as the “International Year of Soils”, therefore a variety of institutions have set their research focus on the ecosystems below our feet. However, many questions in soil science are still unanswered and research has not been conducted to a comparable extend as in other disciplines in biology / ecology. Especially, knowledge of mountain soil ecosystems is scarce and needs deeper insights as these ecosystems nowadays suffer from vast environmental, climatic and socio-economic changes. We will conduct our research at the LT(S)ER study area “Matschertal / Val di Mazia” in South Tyrol, Italy.


2. Goals

In this project, we aim at:

a) establishing and organizing a fully functional soil laboratory at the Institute for Alpine Environment

b) collecting basic data about the structural composition and trophic structure of the epigeic and soil macrofauna in different habitats

c) evaluating litter decomposition processes


3. Methods

To achieve the project goals, we will use a variety of classic field and laboratory methods common in soil ecology. For example, to evaluate the soil macrofauna, we will take soil core samples and set up soil photoeclectors and pitfall traps. Innovative methods include molecular approaches (e.g. DNA barcoding), near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), as well as Stable-Isotope-Analyses (SIA).


4. Milestones

i) fully set up und functioning soil laboratory (Jul - Dec 2015)

ii) basic insight about the structure of the macrofauna (Aug 2015 - Jan 2016)

iii) development of an extensive and broad-viewed sampling approach (Jan – Mar 2016)

iv) detailed determination of the structural composition of the macrofauna throughout an entire alpine vegetation period (Mar – Dec 2016)

v) evaluation of soil macro-invertebrate communities of vineyards, snowbeds, larch and stone pine forests (April 2017 - December 2019)

Seeber Julia
Steinwandter Michael
Bottarin Roberta
Della Chiesa Stefano
Niedrist Georg
Obojes Nikolaus
Seeber Julia
Steinwandter Michael
Tappeiner Ulrike
Tasser Erich Ignaz
Zandonai Alessandro
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