Direct and Indirect Effects of Millipedes on the Decay of Litter of Varying Lignin Content, Tropical Forests

TitleDirect and Indirect Effects of Millipedes on the Decay of Litter of Varying Lignin Content, Tropical Forests
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsGonzález, G, Murphy, CM, Belen, J
Book TitleTropical Forests
PublisherUSDA FS International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF)
CityRio Piedras
ISBN Number978-953- 51-0255-7
Accession NumberLUQ.1118
Keywordsdecay, lignin, microcosms, Millipedes, Puerto Rico, Tabonuco

Millipedes are considered to be important organisms involved in decomposition, both for their direct feeding on detritus and their indirect effects on microbial activity. Hanlon (1981a, 1981b) suggested that fragmentation of leaf litter by soil fauna increases microbial biomass by increasing leaf surface area and diminishing pore sizes. The passage of litter through the gut of macroarthropods, such as millipedes, can help in the establishment of soil bacteria (Anderson & Bignell, 1980; Hanlon, 1981a, 1981b; Tajovsky et al., 1991; Maraun & Scheu, 1996). The presence of millipedes has been shown to increase the decomposition of litter as well as increase growth of seedlings (Cárcamo et al., 2001). In a beech forest, Bonkowski et al. (1998) also found that the presence of millipedes significantly increased the decomposition of litter, much more so than endogeic earthworms. The presence of millipedes has also been found to greatly increase the release of litter nutrients into the soil, especially calcium and nitrates (Pramanik et al., 2001). Millipedes are selective about what leaves they eat (Lyford, 1943; Kheirallah, 1979; Cárcamo et al., 2000). The chemical composition of leaf litter, especially the lignin and nitrogen content, can greatly affect soil fauna populations, although this effect is not clear for millipedes (Tian et al., 1993). Van der Drift (1975) estimated that in temperate areas millipedes are responsible for ingesting 5–10 percent of the annual leaf litter fall and Cárcamo et al. (2000) estimated that a single species of millipede consumed 36 percent of the annual leaf litter in a British Columbian Cedar-Hemlock forest. Tropical studies have also found a large influence of millipedes on decomposition (Tian et al., 1995). In a Tabonuco forest in Puerto Rico, Ruan et al. (2005) found that millipede density explained 40 percent of the variance in leaf litter decomposition rates, while soil microbial biomass explained only 19 percent of the variance.Millipedes make up a large part of the arthropod community on the forest floor in the Tabonuco forests of Puerto Rico. Richardson et al. (2005, pers. com.) found that diplopods in El Verde (a Tabonuco forest) constituted about 11.4 percent (73.09 mg dry/m2) of the microarthropod biomass, second only to Isoptera. In the same forest, we found that Stemmiulidae were the most abundant millipede with a density of ca. 22 individuals/m2 (Murphy et al., 2008). In this study, we use a microcosm approach to answer the direct (leaf fragmentation) and indirect (microbial biomass) effects of millipedes on the decomposition of leaf litter and how these outcomes are influenced by the substrate (litter) quality and the density of millipedes. We expect that higher the litter quality (lower lignin content) and the higher density of millipedes would result in more leaf area lost, decreased leaf mass remaining, and higher biomass of soil microbes. We used microcosms containing one of three litter species with varying lignin to nitrogen (L/N) ratios and three different densities of millipedes. Access article in: