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Photo shows an earthworm and a horn mite on the forest floor

In our project “LitterLinks“, we investigate the effect of forest land-use on structure of soil animal communities and their trophic interactions. Soil food webs are an essential part of terrestrial ecosystems and closely linked to aboveground systems. In soil, animals act as decomposer of dead organic matter, as root feeders or as ecosystem engineers, which improve soil structure by mixing soil layers. Despite their important roles we know little about these creatures and their interactions, much due to their small size, high diversity but also their opaque lifestyle.

The goals of this project are two-fold: First, we characterize the animal communities of the soil and litter layer in differently managed forests and record shifts in abundance and diversity over time. We then use these data to study trophic relationships of key species, their trophic position and their food resources.

In our “trenching-experiment”, we want to investigate the importance of above-ground processes for structure of the soil food web. By cutting tree roots we stopped flow of root exsudates into soil, thereby reducing an important nutrient resource for mycorrhizal fungi and bacteria which will eventually alter the microbial and animal community.


  1. Land-use change alters composition of animal decomposer community in a predictable way.
  2. Land-use change has only little effect on type and strength of trophic interaction between decomposer animals and their food resources.

We record abundance and diversity of soil animals using heat extraction of soil cores. To characterize land-use types we also record biotic and abiotic factors, such as microbial biomass, soi pH and litter mass.

To analyse trophic interactions we employ three different methods, which allow us to illustrate the soil food web in unmatched detail: We use stable isotope analysis (ratios of 13C/12C- and 15N/14N) to identify trophic level and basal resources of soil animals. Fatty acid analysis shows if a consumer is linked to the bacterial or fungal pathway in soil. PCR-based molecular gut content analysis detects prey DNA in the guts of animal consumers and allows species-specific tracking of trophic interactions. This method will also be used to screen guts of collembolan and oribatid mites for mycorrhizal fungi, soil algae and nematode prey and to assess their respective importance in differently managed forests. All these data will then be used to model whole food webs and to assess effect of land-use on structure and dynamcis of soil animal communities.


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Bluhm S. L., Eitzinger B., Bluhm C., Ferlian O., Heidemann K., Ciobanu M., Maraun M., Scheu S. (2021): The Impact of Root-Derived Resources on Forest Soil Invertebrates Depends on Body Size and Trophic Position. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change 4:622370. doi: 10.3389/ffgc.2021.622370
More information:  doi.org
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Die Reduktion von wurzelbürtigem Energiefluss beeinflusst die mikrobielle Biomasse nicht aber die Gemeinschaft
Bluhm S. L., Eitzinger B., Ferlian O., Bluhm C., Schröter K., Pena R., Maraun M., Scheu S. (2019): Deprivation of root-derived resources affects microbial biomass but not community structure in litter and soil. PLoS ONE 14 (3): e0214233. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0214233
More information:  doi.org
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Beintaster (Protura) sind einzigartig: Erste Hinweise auf eine spezielle Ernährung mit Ektomykorrhizen bei Bodenarthropoden
Bluhm S. L., Potapov A. M., Shrubovych J., Ammerschubert S., Polle A., Scheu S. (2019): Protura are unique: first evidence of specialized feeding on ectomycorrhizal fungi in soil invertebrates. BMC Ecology 19:10. doi: 10.1186/s12898-019-0227-y
More information:  doi.org
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Molekulare Analyse der Ernährung von Hundertfüssern (Chilopoda)
Eitzinger B. (2013): Molecular analysis of centipede predation. Dissertation, University of Goettingen
More information:  ediss.uni-goettingen.de
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Bodennahrungsnetze sichtbar machen: Neue PCR Testverfahren zur Bestimmung von Beute-DNA im Darminhalt von räuberischen Gliederfüßern der Bodenschicht
Eitzinger B., Micic A., Körner M., Traugott M., Scheu S. (2013): Unveiling soil food web links: New PCR assays for detection of prey DNA in the gut of soil arthropod predators. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 57 (943–945). doi: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2012.09.001
More information:  doi.org
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Einsatz von molekularer Darminhaltsanalyse zur Überprüfung der Eignung von Functional Response Modelle zur Vorhersage von Räuber-Beute-Interaktionen bei bodenlebenden Gliederfüßern
Eitzinger B., Rall B. C., Traugott M., Scheu S. (2018): Testing the validity of functional response models using molecular gut content analysis for prey choice in soil predators. Oikos 127 (7), 915-926. doi: 10.1111/oik.04885
More information:  doi.org
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Auswirkungen von Beutequalität und Räuberkörpergröße auf Beute-DNA-Detektionserfolg in Hundertfüssern
Eitzinger B., Unger E. M., Traugott M., Scheu S. (2014): Effects of prey quality and predator body size on prey DNA detection success in a centipede predator. Molecular Ecology 23 (15), 3767–377. doi: 10.1111/mec.12654
More information:  doi.org
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Analysing trophic interactions in centipedes (Chilopoda, Myriapoda) using fatty acid patterns: effects of life stage,forest type and season
Ferlian O. (2011): Analysing trophic interactions in centipedes (Chilopoda, Myriapoda) using fatty acid patterns: effects of life stage,forest type and season. Thesis, University Göttingen
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Ferlian O. (2014): Soil animal food webs in temperate forests: effects of forest management on trophic structure as indicated by molecular gut content, stable isotope and fatty acid analyses. Dissertation, University Goettingen
More information:  ediss.uni-goettingen.de
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Nahrungsressourcen von verschiedenen Regenwurm-Arten anhand von komponenten-spezifischen Stabile-Isotopen-Analysen
Ferlian O., Cesarz S., Marhan S., Scheu S. (2014): Carbon food resources of earthworms of different ecological groups as indicated by 13C compound-specific stable isotope analysis. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 77, 22–30. doi: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2014.06.002
More information:  doi.org
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Unterschiede in Nahrungsressourcen bei Springschwänzen anhand von Fettsäure- und Stabile-Isotopen-Analysen
Ferlian O., Klarner B., Langeneckert A. E., Scheu S. (2015): Trophic niche differentiation and utilisation of food resources in collembolans based on complementary analyses of fatty acids and stable isotopes. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 82, 28–35. doi: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2014.12.012
More information:  doi.org
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Verschiebung von Nahrungsspektren räuberischer Bodentiere mit Waldnutzungstypen anhand von Fettsäure- und Stabile-Isotopen-Analysen
Ferlian O., Scheu S. (2014): Shifts in trophic interactions with forest type in soil generalist predators as indicated by complementary analyses of fatty acids and stable isotopes. Oikos 123 (10), 1182–1191. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2013.00848.x
More information:  doi.org
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Nahrungsbeziehungen von Hundertfüßern anhand von Fettsäureanalysen: Unterschiede mit Individualentwicklung, Waldalter und Jahreszeit
Ferlian O., Scheu S., Pollierer M. M. (2012): Trophic interactions in centipedes (Chilopoda, Myriapoda) as indicated by fatty acid patterns: Variations with life stage, forest age and season. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 52, 33–42. doi: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2012.04.018
More information:  doi.org
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Gong X., Chen T.-W., Zieger S. L., Bluhm C., Heidemann K., Schaefer I., Maraun M., Liu M., Scheu S. (2018): Phylogenetic and trophic determinants of gut microbiota in soil oribatid mites. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 123, 155-164. doi: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2018.05.011
More information:  doi.org
Doc
Prey spectrum of forest soil predators across a land-use gradient using molecular gut content analysis
Günther B. (2012): Prey spectrum of forest soil predators across a land-use gradient using molecular gut content analysis. Master thesis, University Goettingen
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Variationen in der Beutewahl von Hundertfüssern in Waldböden
Günther B., Rall B. C., Ferlian O., Scheu S., Eitzinger B. (2014): Variations in prey consumption of centipede predators in forest soils as indicated by molecular gut content analysis. Oikos 123 (10), 1192–1198. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2013.00868.x
More information:  doi.org
Doc
Fettsäuremuster als Biomarker für trophische Interaktionen: Veränderungen nach Nahrungswechsel und Hungern
Haubert D., Pollierer M. M., Scheu S. (2011): Fatty acid patterns as biomarker for trophic interactions: Changes after dietary switch and starvation. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 43, 490-494. doi: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2010.10.008
More information:  doi.org
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Klarner B. (2013): Changes in trophic structure of decomposer communities with land use in Central European temperate forests. Dissertation, University Goettingen
More information:  ediss.uni-goettingen.de
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Aufzeigen von Veränderungen der Ernährungsweise von Bodentieren in Wäldern unterschiedlicher Bewirtschaftung mittels stabiler Isotope
Klarner B., Ehnes R. B., Erdmann G., Eitzinger B., Pollierer M. M., Maraun M., Scheu S. (2014): Trophic shift of soil animal species with forest type as indicated by stable isotope analysis. Oikos 123 (10), 1173–1181. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2013.00939.x
More information:  doi.org
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Trophische Diversität und Nischentrennung in einer artenreichen Räubergilde; Natürliche Variation in stabilen Isotopenverhältnissen (13C/12C und 15N/14N) von Raubmilben (Acari, Mesostigmata) mitteleuropäischer Buchenwälder
Klarner B., Maraun M., Scheu S. (2013): Trophic diversity and niche partitioning in a species rich predator guild – Natural variations in stable isotope ratios (13C/12C, 15N/14N) of mesostigmatid mites (Acari, Mesostigmata) from Central European beech forests. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 57, 327–333. doi: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2012.08.013
More information:  doi.org
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Kompartimentierung und Energie-Kanäle im Bodentier-Nahrungsnetz untersucht mit stabiler Isotopen- und Fettsäuremuster-Analyse
Maraun M. (2012): Compartmentalization and energy channels within the soil animal food web investigated by stable isotope and fatty acid analyses. Dissertation, University Goettingen
More information:  ediss.uni-goettingen.de
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Analysing the litter food web: Molecular detection of springtails (Insecta: Collembola) in arthropod predators
Micic A.(2009): Analysing the litter food web: Molecular detection of springtails (Insecta: Collembola) in arthropod predators. Thesis, Technische Universität Darmstadt
Doc
Zeitliche Dynamik und Varianz von Phospholipiden aus Boden und Streu in verschiedenen Wäldern und Regionen Deutschlands und der Einfluss von Landnutzung
Pollierer M. M., Ferlian O., Scheu S. (2015): Temporal dynamics and variation with forest type of phospholipid fatty acids in litter and soil of temperate forests across regions. Soil Biology& Biochemistry 91, 248-257. doi: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2015.08.035
More information:  doi.org
Doc
Diversität und funktionelle Struktur von Bodentiergemeinschaften legen nahe, dass Bodentier-Nahrungsnetze gegenüber Änderungen in der Waldnutzung gepuffert sind
Pollierer M. M., Klarner B., Ott D. Digel C., Ehnes R. B., Eitzinger B., Erdmann G., Brose U., Maraun M., Scheu S. (2021): Diversity and functional structure of soil animal communities suggest soil animal food webs to be buffered against changes in forest land use. Oecologia 196, 195–209. doi: 10.1007/s00442-021-04910-1
More information:  doi.org
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Bestimmende Faktoren und zeitliche Fluktuation von Collembola Gemeinschaften und Reproduktionsweise in unterschiedlichen Waldtypen und Regionen
Pollierer M. M., Scheu S. (2017): Driving factors and temporal fluctuation of Collembola communities and reproductive mode across forest types and regions. Ecology and Evolution 7 (12), 4390-4403. doi: 10.1002/ece3.3035/10.1002/ece3.3035
More information:  doi.org
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Stabile Isotope von Aminosäuren weisen darauf hin, dass Zersetzer-Mikroarthropoden im Boden sich hauptsächlich von saprotrophen Pilzen ernähren
Pollierer M. M., Scheu S. (2021): Stable isotopes of amino acids indicate that soil decomposer microarthropods predominantly feed on saprotrophic fungi. Ecosphere 12 (3), e03425. doi: 10.1002/ecs2.3425
More information:  doi.org
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Trophischer Transfer von Marker-Fettsäuren von der basalen Ressource zum Prädator
Pollierer M. M., Scheu S., Haubert D. (2010): Taking it to the next level: Trophic transfer of marker fatty acids from basal resource to predators. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 42, 919-925. doi: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2010.02.008
More information:  doi.org
Doc
Phylogenetic diversity as proxy for functional diversity
Unger E. M. (2015): Phylogenetic diversity as proxy for functional diversity. Master thesis, University Göttingen
Doc
Auswirkungen von Landnutzung auf die Nematodengesellschaften in Wäldern gemäßigter Breiten
Wagner K. (2010): Auswirkungen von Landnutzung auf die Nematodengesellschaften in Wäldern gemäßigter Breiten. Thesis, HU Berlin
Doc
Basal resources and trophic level of macrofauna decomposers in beech and spruce forests as indicated by amino acid isotopes of carbon and nitrogen
Zusammensetzung von basalen Ressourcen und dem trophischen Level von Makrofauna Zersetzern in Buchen und Fichtenwald, wie von stabilen Isotopen von Kohlenstoff und Stickstoff in Aminosäuren angegeben
Wenglein R. (2021): Basal resources and trophic level of macrofauna decomposers in beech and spruce forests as indicated by amino acid isotopes of carbon and nitrogen. Master thesis, University Göttingen

Project in other funding periods

Photo shows an earthworm and a horn mite on the forest floor
LitterLinks (Contributing project)
#Animals  #Soil biology & Element Cycling  #2020 – 2023  #Biodiversity […]
Photo shows a springtail on the forest floor
LitterLinks (Contributing project)
#Animals  #Soil biology & Element Cycling  #2017 – 2020  #Biodiversity […]
Centipede on a brown leaf
LitterLinks (Contributing project)
#Animals  #Soil biology & Element Cycling  #2011 – 2014  #2008 – 2011  #Biodiversity […]

Scientific assistants

Prof. Dr. Stefan Scheu
Project manager
Prof. Dr. Stefan Scheu
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Dr. Sarah Bluhm
Employee
Dr. Sarah Bluhm
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Dr. Kerstin Heidemann
Employee
Dr. Kerstin Heidemann
Dr. Melanie Maraun
Employee
Dr. Melanie Maraun
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Melissa Jüds
Employee
Melissa Jüds
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
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