Research Focus of the Section Mesofauna

Metacommunity dynamics in floodplain habitats

In various research projects the Section Mesofauna has been studying since the mid-1990s the dynamics of soil-faunal communities induced by inundation in floodplain habitats as well as the mechanisms with which these communities maintain stability despite regular flooding. Ecologically intact floodplains are characterized by the regular but natural disturbance of inundation as well as high habitat heterogeneity. Soil animals must cope with both aspects in order to maintain stabile communities. Our research could indentify a number of different species groups showing different ecological tolerances in floodplains. Although the species constituting these groups differ from area to area, the ecological groups themselves remain remarkably constant between regions. Through the interactions of constant species sorting of these groups due to the regularly changing environmental conditions and strong metacommunity dynamics within the heterogeneous habitat, different species complexes become dominant depending on the predominant hydrological conditions, which thereby renders the entire community stability over longer time periods.

Anthropogenic effects on Antarctic soil communities

Antarctic soil habitats are characterized by their simplicity as well as their fragility. Furthermore, very many different microhabitats exist at small special scales especially in the Antarctic summer, which offer very diverse habitats for soil organisms and thus afford the possibility of relatively high species diversity at the landscape scale. Antarctic soil organisms have been well studied and their ecological adaptations to the extreme Antarctic conditions are known to have developed through evolutionary time. Especially the Antarctic Peninsula, however, is visited yearly by many thousands of tourists, which can easily disturb these sensitive soil communities. In research financed by the German Federal Environmental Agency, the danger of foreign species being introduced into Antarctic habitats as well as the potential disturbance of the existing soil communities by the activities of tourists is being studied. Especially the danger of inadvertent transport of species between Antarctic sites or between microhabitats within individual sites, both of which could lead to a reduction of biodiversity at the landscape scale, is a focus of the current studies.

Soil-zoological taxonomic-ecological database

In the project ‘edaphobase’ , funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research, taxonomical, zoogeographical und ecological information of the most important soil-zoological taxa is being assembled and interconnected. Present information databases for soil animals generally cover only regional collections. Neither have such small-scaled databases been linked together nor has additional sampling-site information been connected to taxonomic data. This project will thus bring together existing data collections and databases from different research institutions within Germany as well as widely scattered information from the literature and link this data to information concerning collections sites and habitat requirements. The information system will provide tools for data mining and analysis for complex ecological and biogeographical investigations as well as basic information for the development of prognostic tools for prospective changes in soil biocoenoses and their influence on ecosystem processes, i.e., following land-use and climate change. start edaphobase