Apparently, according to recent scientific developments, plant roots are more important than ever in the fight to keep ecosystems alive amidst the growing climate crisis. Researchers at the University of Göttingen have discovered just how important roots are for the life of the soil and belowground creatures. Millions of those creatures – earthworms, mites, insects, springtails, and other arthropods are crucial for soil health and decomposition. The decomposition of leaf litter and other natural debris has been thought of, for many decades, as the main resource for these animals' survival. Now, this recent study has shown that plant roots are the essential underground fuel for ecosystems in the tropics.
"The study provides novel perspectives for the management of the resources provided by plant litter in tropical plantations, fostering soil animal biodiversity. This is important to develop sustainable agricultural landscapes in the tropics," stated Head of the Animal Ecology Working Group at the University of Göttingen, Professor Stefan Scheu.
With a technique known as “root trenching,” researchers were able to isolate land plots within natural ecosystems and separate those plots with plastic barriers to assess the roots. They performed these studies in the rainforest, and both rubber and oil plantations in Sumatra, Indonesia. First, they exposed the soil by removing all leaf and other natural debris from the surface. Upon the exposure of the belowground networks, they found that in plots without living roots, the livelihood of animals in the natural ecosystems dropped by 42% and in the plantations by 30%. The removal of leaves had almost no effect on the animals within the soil, but decreased the total animal abundance by 60% in both the natural and rubber plantation ecosystems. These insects and other arthropods are at high quantities within the debris and their removal can be detrimental to soil aeration and overall health. The study continued to show that living roots are especially important for springtail and mites.
The debris removal study did not show significant data when performed at the oil plantation, as there are already naturally scarce amounts of debris and has the majority of the surface soil exposed. But, after a little experiment of increasing the ground debris, the total animal abundance increased in tandem! This increased the overall habitat structure and health, by promoting food networks and workable services.
"This study's findings are significant not only for the conservation of tropical soil biodiversity, but also for the development of global ecosystem models describing carbon cycling in the tropics. We need a better understanding of the complex ecological systems that support life on Earth," stated Dr Anton Potapov with the Soil Biodiversity and Functions at German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research. This study is the first to provide proof that roots are essential for maintaining a stable ecosystem, and driving soil animal communities. The published study continues to break down the detailed composition of flora and fauna communities, along with the necessity of covering the main knowledge gaps within this area of study.