Soil moisture availability and energetic controls on belowground network complexity and function in arid ecosystems
The explicit role of soil organisms in shaping soil health, rates of pedogenesis, and resistance to erosion has only just recently begun to be explored in the last century. However, much of the research regarding soil biota and soil processes is centered on maintaining soil fertility (e.g., plant nutrient availability) and soil structure in mesic- and agro- ecosystems. Despite the empirical and theoretical strides made in soil ecology over the last few decades, questions regarding ecosystem function and soil processes remain, especially for arid areas. Arid areas have unique ecosystem biogeochemistry, decomposition processes, and soil microbial responses to moisture inputs that deviate from predictions derived using data generated in more mesic systems. For example, current paradigm predicts that soil microbes will respond positively to increasing moisture inputs in a water-limited environment, yet data collected in arid regions are not congruent with this hypothesis. The influence of abiotic factors on litter decomposition rates (e.g., photodegradation), litter quality and availability, soil moisture pulse size, and resulting feedbacks on detrital food web structure must be explicitly considered for advancing our understanding of arid land ecology. However, empirical data coupling arid belowground food webs and ecosystem processes are lacking. My dissertation explores the resource controls (soil organic matter and soil moisture) on food web network structure, size, and presence/absence of expected belowground trophic groups across a variety of sites in Arizona.