Oribatid mites occur from the tropics to the Antarctic in almost all terrestrial habitats and have even colonized the marine littoral, bogs and fresh waters. Numerous species are adapted to life on tree trunks, bark and lichens on trees. The highest species- and individual numbers are found in soils of the temperate zone with up to 200,000 individuals/m² in the humus layer of forest soils. As a part of the decomposer community, oribatid mites are very important for the fertility of soils. Their nutrition consists of dead plant particles, fungal hyphae and spores as well as algae and bacteria. By further breaking up dead plant fragments, they stimulate microfaunal growth.
The section Oribatida works mainly on oribatid mites in peat bogs. We investigate if oribatid mites can be used as indicator organisms for different ecological states of peat bogs. Furthermore, our focus is on basic research about nutrition of oribatid mites in peat bogs (stable isotopes), on consequences of small-scale heterogeneity and on genetic diversity of tyrphophilic oribatid mites. The role of passive and active dispersal during immigration into young soils is being investigated. Another focus are the dispersal mechanisms of oribatid mites (wind dispersal, water dispersal, active migration).
History of the Section
The section Oribatida is the youngest section of the soil zoology department and exists since July 1st, 2013. Nevertheless, research on oribatid mites has a long tradition at our museum, since already in 1963 Dr. H.-D. Engelmann began developing the oribatid mite collection. From spring 1987, Dr. Axel Christian started to merge the collection parts kept in different places to one arachnid collection, during which the oribatid mite collection was inherited in 1989.
Between 1990 and 2000, Dr. T. Schwalbe curated the collection part Oribatida and extended it considerably. Afterwards, it was again combined into the arachnid collection. In the following years, Dr. Axel Christian developed the oribatid mite collection to an important and high-level collection in Germany. Under his direction, Dipl.-Biol. V. Hampe (2001-2004), Dr. G. Erdmann (2004-2007) and Dr. Ricarda Lehmitz (2008-2010) extended the collection during internships and also the Josef Stary collection was acquired. With the establishment of the new section Oribatida in July 2013, Dr. Ricarda Lehmitz became head of the section.