Welcome to the Animal Ecology Working Group
We investigate the structure and structuring forces of soil animal communities and their role for soil processes, plant growth and infection of plants by herbivores. We are interested in the evolutionary forces that shaped the structure and functioning of animal communities in soil. The wide spectrum of topics investigated includes the following three major themes:
(1) Structure of soil food webs
A wide spectrum of soil animal taxa of different functional groups (primary decomposers, bacterial feeders, fungal feeders, predators) is investigated including bacteria, protists, nematodes, mites, collembolans, earthworms, spiders and beetles. Major questions investigated include the following:
- How are soil food webs structured, how is energy channelled through soil food webs?
- Which factors regulate soil animal populations?
- Which factors allow the coexistence of the amazing diversity of soil animal taxa?
(2) Interrelationships between the below- and aboveground system of terrestrial ecosystems
Below- and aboveground systems of terrestrial ecosystems are intimately linked. We investigate the role of soil microorganisms and animals for plant growth and the control of herbivores. Major questions investigated include the following:
- How is soil biodiversity affecting decomposition of organic matter, mineralization of nutrients and plant growth?
- How do soil microorganisms and animals affect the susceptibility of plants for herbivore insects?
- How are soil animal-mediated changes in plant performance modulated by rhizosphere interactions?
(3) Parthenogenesis in soil
A remarkable number of species in soil has abandoned sexual reproduction and reproduces by parthenogenesis. Several species abandoned the production of males millions of years ago which is most remarkable in oribatid mites (Oribatida, Acari). We aim at understanding the factors allowing the existence as pure female populations and the factors responsible for the evolution of sexuality in plants and animals. Major questions investigated include the following:
- Are old parthenogenetic species genetically more diverse than sexual species?
- Are there general traits in which sexual and parthenogentic species differ?
- Which oribatid mite groups abandoned sex and at which time did it occur?
A 15 minute documentary on our work is here
A brief introduction (7 minutes) on the role of the belowground system for terrestrial ecosystems is here
More information on teaching and excursions can be found on our YouTube channel here