.|  Baltimore Ecosystem Study
Structure and function of soil biota on anthropogenic landscapes


Amynthas hilgendorfi, an Asian invasive species, common in urban landscapes. Photo: Kathy Szlavecz
Soil biota provide many ecosystem services. They process the majority of dead organic matter and thereby influence rates of nutrient release. Soil animals also aerate soils and influence the distribution of microorganisms. The composition of soil communities may therefore be important in understanding ecosystem dynamics. There are many factors that determine the community structure of soil biota. In addition to physical conditions, past and present disturbances (human and natural) can affect species diversity, abundance, and activity. The main objective of our research is to understand the influence of the environment on soil community structure and ecosystem function. We primarily focus on macrodetritivores groups (earthworms, isopods, millipedes, beetles etc.)
The central questions of the soil biodiversity project are:
  1. How do past and present land use changes affect soil community structure and abundance?
  2. What is the significance of exotic species in urban and suburban environments?
  3. Do differences in biodiversity indicate different functions in the decomposer subsystem?
We monitor soil fauna on the BES long-term "permanent plot" research sites and in the footprint of the Cub Hill flux tower and carry out laboratory and field mesocosm experiments to answer these questions. In collaboration with European scientists we compare soil fauna from several cities. This type of work allows us to involve students and community groups in our research.

Students in the Green Career Ladder Program (Parks and People Foundations) participate in earthworm sampling. Photo: Kathy Szlavecz
The main question of this study is how past and present land use affects the diversity and distribution of soil invertebrate assemblages. We are assessing soil fauna in urban and rural forest fragments, parks, and anthropogenic land uses, such as lawns and planting beds. We have conducted comparative surveys in Baltimore, MD, Budapest, Hungary, and through the GLOBENET project we have datasets on several Western and Central European cities, as well. We are also assessing soil macrofauna in agricultural systems at the USDA-BARC Long-Term Farming System Project in Beltsville, MD that assesses the long-term sustainability of three different cropping systems: organic, no till and chisel till plots. As collaborators in this project we compare spatio-temporal patterns of the decomposer food web.
Taxonomic groups we focus on at a species level include: Earthworms (Oligochaeta), terrestrial isopods (Oniscidea) millipedes (Diplopoda) ground beetles (Coleoptera: Carabidae) carrion beetles (Coleoptera: Silphidae). Other macroarthropods are assessed at family or higher taxonomic level. Mesofauna studies include springtails (Collembola) and mites (Acari). This work resulted in description of three species new to science. An additional two and four species proved to be new to the fauna of North America, and Hungary, respectively. A reference collection of the material has been established at the Johns Hopkins University. The proportion of non-native fauna varies with taxonomic group (see table). The two Coleoptera families (Silphidae and Carabidae) are dominated by native species (100% and 98% respectively), whereas only non-native isopods are found in the Mid-Atlantic region.
  BES Permanent Forest Plots Agricultural Field % of Non-natives
Group Leakin Park (Urban) Hillsdale (Urban) Oregon Ridge (Rural) USDA Beltsville  
Oligochateta (Earthworms)457457
Oniscidea (Isopods)4323100
Diplopoda (Millipedes)1085452
Carabidae (Ground beetles)171111312
Silphidae (Carrion beetles)657N/A0
Katalin Szlavecz, JHU Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences
Csaba Csuzdi (Hungarian Natural History Museum)
Elisabeth Hornung (Szent Istvan University, Budapest)
Zoltan Korsos (Hungarian Natural History Museum)
Michel Cavigelli (USDA BARC)
Michael S. Clark Berea College
Foster Purrington (Ohio State University)
Richard Pouyat (USDA Forest Service)
Chris Swan, UMBC
Contact: Katalin Szlavecz, szlavecz@jhu.edu
Cavigelli, M.A., J.E. Maul, and K. Szlavecz. 2012. Managing soil biodiversity and ecosystem services. Pp 337-356 in D. Wall (ed). The Oxford Handbook of Soil Ecology & Ecosystem Services. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Pickett, STA, GS Brush, AJ Felson, BP McGrath, JM Grove, CH Nilon, K Szlavecz, CM Swan, PS Warren. 2012. The Baltimore Ecosystem Study: Understanding and Working with Urban Biodiversity. CityGreen. Issue 4: 68-77. http://www.cuge.com.sg/research/images/cugeresearch/CG4/article%2006.pdf
Gailing O, Hickey E, Lilleskov E, Szlavecz K, Richter, K, Pothoff, M. 2012. Genetic comparisons between North American and European populations of Lumbricus terrestris L. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 45: 23-30, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bse.2012.07.018,
Swan, C.M., S.T.A. Pickett, K. Szlavecz, P. Warren & K.T. Willey. 2011. Biodiversity and community composition in urban ecosystems: coupled human, spatial and metacommunity processes. Pp179-186 in: Niemelä J, JH Breuste, G Guntenspergen, NE McIntyre, T Elmqvist, P James (eds): Urban Ecology: Patterns, Processes, and Applications. Oxford University Press
Szlavecz, K. P. Warren, and S.T.A. Pickett 2011. Biodiversity in the Urban Landscape. Pp 75-101 in RP Cincotta and LJ Gorenflo Human Population: Its Influences on Biological Diversity. Ecological Studies 214, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg
Pickett, STA, ML Cadenasso, JM Grove, CG Boone, E Irwin, PM Groffman, SS Kaushal, V Marshall, BP McGrath, CH Nilon, RV Pouyat, K Szlavecz, A Troy, P Warren 2010. Urban ecological systems: Scientific foundations and a decade of progress. Journal of Environmental Management 92: 331-362. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2010.08.022
Pouyat RV, K Szlavecz, I Yesilonis, P Groffman, K Schwartz 2010. Chemical, Physical, and Biological Characteristics of Urban Soils. p 119-152 in: Aitkenhead-Peterson, J. (ed): Urban Ecosystem Ecology (Agronomy Monograph 55). ASA-CSSA-SSSA, Madison, WI
Pickett, S.T.A., M.L. Cadenasso, J.M. Grove, P.M. Groffman, L.W. Band, C.G. Boone, G.S. Brush, W.R. Burch, Jr., S. Grimmond, J. Hom, J.C. Jenkins, N. Law, C.H. Nilon, R.V. Pouyat, K. Szlavecz, P.S. Warren, M.A. Wilson (2008). Beyond urban legends: An emerging framework of urban ecology as illustrated by the Baltimore Ecosystem Study: BioScience. 58: 139-150.
Hornung, E., F. Vilicsics, K. Szlavecz 2007. Conservation biology categories for terrestrial isopods (Isopoda, Oniscidea) with special emphasis on successful colonizers. Cons. Biol Lett. Hung. 13: 47-58
Szlavecz K. and Csuzdi Cs 2007. Land use change affects earthworm assemblages is Eastern Maryland, USA. Eur. J. of Soil Ecology, 43: 79-85
Clark, S.M., K. Szlavecz and M. Cavigelli 2006. Ground beetle (Coleoptera: Carabidae) assemblages in conventional, no-till and organic cropping systems. Environmental Entomology 35:1304-1312.
Wolf, J. & Gibbs, J. (2004) Silphids in urban forests: Diversity and function. Urban Ecosystems 7, 371-384. Csuzdi, Cs. and K. Szlavecz: 2003. Lumbricus friendi Cognetti, 1904 a new exotic earthworm from North America. Northeastern Naturalist 10 (1): 77-82.
Hornung, E. and K. Szlavecz. 2003 Establishment of a Mediterranean Isopod (Chaetophiloscia sicula Verhoeff, 1908) in a North American Temperate Forest. Crustaceana Monographs 2: 181-189.
Korsós, Z., E. Hornung, K. Szlávecz & J. Kontschán 2002. Isopoda and Diplopoda of urban habitats: New data to the fauna of Budapest. Ann. Zool Nat. Hist. Mus. Hung. 94: 45-51.
Csuzdi, Cs. and K. Szlavecz. 2002. Diplocardia patuxentis, a new earthworm species from Maryland, North America (Oligochaeta: Acanthodrilidae). Ann. Zool Nat. Hist. Mus. Hung. 94: