Wood decomposition as influenced by invertebrates
The diversity and habitat requirements of invertebrates associated with dead wood have been the subjects of hundreds of studies in recent years but we still know very little about the ecological or economic importance of these organisms. The purpose of this review is to examine whether, how and to what extent invertebrates affect wood decomposition in terrestrial ecosystems. Three broad conclusions can be reached from the available literature. First, wood decomposition is largely driven by microbial activity but invertebrates also play a significant role in both temperate and tropical environments. Primary mechanisms include enzymatic digestion (involving both endogenous enzymes and those produced by endo- and ectosymbionts), substrate alteration (tunnelling and fragmentation), biotic interactions and nitrogen fertilization (i.e. promoting nitrogen fixation by endosymbiotic and free-living bacteria). Second, the effects of individual invertebrate taxa or functional groups can be accelerative or inhibitory but the cumulative effect of the entire community is generally to accelerate wood decomposition, at least during the early stages of the process (most studies are limited to the first 2–3 years). Although methodological differences and design limitations preclude meta-analysis, studies aimed at quantifying the contributions of invertebrates to wood decomposition commonly attribute 10–20% of wood loss to these organisms. Finally, some taxa appear to be particularly influential with respect to promoting wood decomposition. These include large wood-boring beetles (Coleoptera) and termites (Termitoidae), especially fungus-farmingmacrotermitines. The presence or absence of these species may be more consequential than species richness and the influence of invertebrates is likely to vary biogeographically.
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