Badger (Meles meles) disturbances affect oribatid mite (Acari: Oribatida) communities in European temperate forests

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ABSTRACT

Burrowing mammals living in forests are one of the important disturbance factors driving changes in species community and diversity on the forest floor. In the present study we examined the impact of soil mounds createdby badgers (Meles meles) on species richness and the community structure of oribatid mites, which constitute one
of the most numerous components of soil mesofauna. We compare oribatid communities between forest soils disturbed by badgers in 1-year-old mounds and 5-year-old mounds as well as undisturbed forest soil to get an insight into the direction of temporal changes. The study plots were situated in pine forests within the Kampinos Forest (Poland). The soil parameters created by badgers and ecological groups in the oribatid fauna were analysed. The results showed that distinct oribatid communities occur in badger mounds when compared with adjacent undisturbed forest soil. It appeared that badgers have the potential to substantially affect the soil
environment in forest ecosystems and finally influenced mite abundance and community composition. Initial badger disturbance caused a significant decline in the abundance and biodiversity of oribatid mites, but within a few years the oribatid fauna was restored. Our results supported the intermediate disturbance hypothesis. Badger
activity affected the composition of ecological groups of mites, toward surface dwelling, primary decomposers and sexually reproducing species. It can be concluded that badger mounds serve as microhabitats for some soil mites and contribute to the patchiness and heterogeneity of the forest floor. Finally, oribatid community structure proved to be a good indicator of soil disturbance caused by mammal activities involving deep digging in soil and heaping mounds in temperate forests.

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