Although the effects of nutrient enhancement on aquatic systems are well documented, the consequences of nutritional supplements on soil food webs are poorly understood, and results of past research examining bottom-up effects are often conflicting. In addition, many studies have failed to separate the effects of nutrient enrichment and the physical effects of adding organic matter. In this field study, we hypothesised that the addition of nitrogen to soil would result in a trophic cascade, through detritivores (Collembola) to predators (spiders), increasing invertebrate numbers and diversity.
Nitrogen and lime were added to plots in an upland grassland in a randomised block design. Populations of Collembola and spiders were sampled by means of pitfall traps and identified to species.
Seventeen species of Collembola were identified from the nitrogen plus lime (N+L) and control plots. Species assemblage, diversity, richness, evenness and total number were not affected by nutrient additions. However, there was an increase in the number of Isotomidae juveniles and Parisotoma anglicana trapped in the N+L plots.
Of the 44 spider species identified, over 80% were Linyphiidae. An effect on species assemblage from the addition of N+L to the plots was observed on two of the four sampling dates (July 2002 and June 2003). The linyphiid, Oedothorax retusus, was the only species significantly affected by the treatments and was more likely to be trapped in the control plots.
The increased number of juvenile Collembola, and change in community composition of spiders, were consequences of the bottom-up effect caused by nutrient inputs. However, despite efforts to eliminate the indirect effects of nutrient inputs, a reduction in soil moisture in the N+L plots cannot be eliminated as a cause of the invertebrate population changes observed. Even so, this experiment was not confounded by the physical effects of habitat structure reported in most previous studies. It provides evidence of moderate bottom-up influences of epigeic soil invertebrate food webs and distinguishes between nutrient addition and plant physical structure effects. It also emphasises the importance of understanding the effects of soil management practices on soil biodiversity, which is under increasing pressure from land development and food production.