Invertebrate functional traits and terrestrial nutrient cycling: Insights from a global meta-analysis

Oswald J. Schmitz and 1 other contributor

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    Functional traits are useful for characterizing variation in community and ecosystem dynamics. Most advances in trait-based ecology to date centre on plant functional traits, although there is an increasing recognition that animal traits are also key contributors to processes operating at the community or ecosystem scale. Terrestrial invertebrates are incredibly diverse and ubiquitous animals with important roles in nutrient cycling. Despite their widespread influence on ecosystem processes, we currently lack a synthetic understanding of how invertebrate functional traits affect terrestrial nutrient cycling. We present a meta-analysis of 511 paired observations from 122 papers that examined how invertebrate functional traits affected litter decomposition rates, nitrogen pools and litter C:N ratios. Based on the available data, we specifically assessed the effects of feeding mode (bioturbation, detritus shredding, detritus grazing, leaf chewing, leaf piercing, ambush predators, active hunting predators) and body size (macro- and micro-invertebrates) on nutrient cycling. The effects of invertebrates on terrestrial nutrient cycling varied according to functional trait. The inclusion of both macro- (>= 2 mm) and micro-invertebrates (<2 mm) increased litter decomposition by 20% and 19%, respectively. All detritivorous feeding modes enhanced litter decomposition rates, with bioturbators, detritus shredders and detritus grazers increasing decomposition by 28%, 22% and 15%, respectively. Neither herbivore feeding mode (e.g. leaf chewers and leaf piercers) nor predator hunting mode (ambush and active hunting) affected decomposition. We also revealed that bioturbators and detritus grazers increased soil nitrogen availability by 99% and 70%, respectively, and that leaf-chewing herbivores had a weak effect on litterfall stoichiometry via reducing C:N ratios by 11%. Although functional traits might be useful predictors of ecosystem processes, our findings suggest context-dependent effects of invertebrate traits on terrestrial nutrient cycling. Detritivore functional traits (i.e. bioturbators, detritus shredders and detritus grazers) are more consistent with increased rates of nutrient cycling, whereas our currently characterized predator and herbivore traits are less predictive. Future research is needed to identify, standardize and deliberately study the impacts of invertebrate functional traits on nutrient cycling in hopes of revealing the key functional traits governing ecosystem functioning worldwide.