The detrital food web in a shortgrass prairie
Several experimental approaches have been taken to demonstrate the importance of soil fauna in nitrogen mineralization, but there have been difficulties interpreting the results. We have supplemented the experimental approach with theoretical calculations of nitrogen transformations in a shortgrass prairie. The calculations incorporate a wide array of information on decomposer organisms, including their feeding preferences, nitrogen contents, life spans, assimilation efficiencies, productio:assimilation ratios, decomposabilities, and population sizes. The results are estimates of nitrogen transfer rates through the detrital food web, including rates of N mineralization by bacteria, fungi, root-feeding nematodes, collembolans, fungal-feeding mites, fungal-feeding nematodes, flagellates, bacterial-feeding nematodes, amoebae, omnivorous nematodes, predaceous nematodes, nematode-feeding mites, and predaceous mites. Bacteria are estimated to mineralize the most N (4.5 g N m−2 year−1), followed by the fauna (2.9), and fungi (0.3). Bacterial-feeding amoebae and nematodes together account for over 83% of N mineralization by the fauna. The detrital food web in a shortgrass prairie is similar to that of a desert grassland. The shortgrass detrital web seems to be divided into bacteria- and fungus-based components, although these two branches are united at the level of predaceous nematodes and mites.