Gradients of labile carbon inputs into the soil surrounding wood ant nests in a temperate forest
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Wood ants are common in temperate forests, and while building their nests and foraging for food, they transfer large amounts of organic matter and nutrients. Here, we tested the hypothesis that wood ants generate natural gradients of labile carbon (C) inputs into the soil surrounding their nests. We selected five medium-sized wood ant (Formica aquilonia) nests in a coniferous temperate forest and established sampling points at distances of 4, 30 and 70 m from each nest. Throughfall (honeydew + aboveground vegetation leachates) and litterfall were collected regularly during a vegetative season and were analysed for labile organic C content. In addition, soil from the organic horizon (Oe + Oa), surface mineral horizon (A) and subsoil mineral horizon (B) was collected and analysed for organic matter and nutrient contents. The labile C input in throughfall increased with distance from the nest (it was 1.5-fold greater at 70 m than at 4 m). C input changed during the vegetative season and was highest in June. Litterfall was not affected by the distance from the nest. Organic matter and nutrient contents were unaffected by distance from the nest in surface soil horizons but were significantly higher near the nest (4 m) than 70 m from the nest in the subsoil mineral horizon, suggesting that surface soils are less affected by the labile C inputs than subsoils. Finally, we suggest that the gradients in labile C input surrounding wood ant nests can be used to study the effects of labile C input changes on soil properties.
KeywordsOrganic matter Nutrients Honeydew Litter Soil Picea abies
The authors thank Jiří Petrásek, Kristýna Hošková, Ota Rauch, Josef Starý, Pavlína Stuchlá, Jan Hanzelka and Jitka Hubačová for help with field sampling and laboratory analyses and Bruce Jaffee for the English revision of the manuscript.
This study was supported by the Czech Science Foundation (17-08717S), the Czech Academy of Sciences (L200961602), and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic - MEYS (projects LM2015075, EF16_013/0001782). Part of the equipment used for this study was purchased from the Operational Programme Prague - Competitiveness (Project CZ.2.16/3.1.00/21516). Institutional funding for K. J. was provided by the Center for Geosphere Dynamics (UNCE/SCI/006).
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