Indexed on: 14 Oct '16Published on: 13 Oct '16Published in: Oikos
Plant–soil interactions are increasingly recognized to play a major role in terrestrial ecosystems functioning. However, few studies to date have focused on slow dynamic ecosystems such as forests. As they are vertically stratified by multiple vegetation strata, canopy tree removal by thinning operations could alter forest plant community through tree canopy opening. Very little is known about cascading effects on soil biodiversity.We conducted a large-scale, multi-site assessment of collembolan assemblage response to long-term canopy tree removal in sessile oak Quercus petraea temperate forests. A total of 33 experimental plots were studied covering a large gradient of canopy tree basal area, stand age and local abiotic contexts.Collembolan abundance strongly declined with canopy tree removal in early forest successional stage and this was mediated by negative effect of understory plant community composition changes, i.e. shift from moss and forb to tree seedling, fern, shrub and grass species. Negative effect of this composition shift on collembolan species richness was largely offset by positive effect of the increase in understory plant species richness. This gives support to both the plant mass-ratio and functional diversity hypotheses. Collembolan functional groups had contrasting response patterns, which were mediated by different ecological factors. Epedaphic (r-strategist) abundance and species richness increased with canopy tree removal in relation with the increase in understory plant species richness. In contrast, euedaphic (K-strategist) abundance and species richness declined with canopy tree removal in early forest successional stage in relation with changes in understory plant community composition and species richness, as well as microclimatic conditions.Overall, our study provides experimental evidence that forest plant community can be a strong driver of collembolan assemblages. It also emphasizes the role of trees as foundation species of forest ecosystems that can shape soil biodiversity through their regulation of understory plant community and ecosystem abiotic conditions.