Assessing the relationship between patch type and soil mites: A molecular approach

Karen Gibb, James Beard, P O'Reagain, Keith Christian, V Torok, K Ophel-Keller

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    An urgent need exists for indicators of soil health and patch functionality in extensive rangelands that can be measured efficiently and at low cost. Soil mites are candidate indicators, but their identification and handling is so specialised and time-consuming that their inclusion in routine monitoring is unlikely. The aim of this study was to measure the relationship between patch type and mite assemblages using a conventional approach. An additional aim was to determine if a molecular approach traditionally used for soil microbes could be adapted for soil mites to overcome some of the bottlenecks associated with soil fauna diversity assessment. Soil mite species abundance and diversity were measured using conventional ecological methods in soil from patches with perennial grass and litter cover (PGL), and compared to soil from bare patches with annual grasses and/or litter cover (BAL). Soil mite assemblages were also assessed using a molecular method called terminal-restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) analysis. The conventional data showed a relationship between patch type and mite assemblage. The Prostigmata and Oribatida were well represented in the PGL sites, particularly the Aphelacaridae (Oribatida). For T-RFLP analysis, the mite community was represented by a series of DNA fragment lengths that reflected mite sequence diversity. The T-RFLP data showed a distinct difference in the mite assemblage between the patch types. Where possible, T-RFLP peaks were matched to mite families using a reference 18S rDNA database, and the Aphelacaridae prevalent in the conventional samples at PGL sites were identified, as were prostigmatids and oribatids. We identified limits to the T-RFLP approach and this included an inability to distinguish some species whose DNA sequences were similar. Despite these limitations, the data still showed a clear difference between sites, and the molecular taxonomic inferences also compared well with the conventional ecological data. The results from this study indicated that the T-RFLP approach was effective in measuring mite assemblages in this system. The power of this technique lies in the fact that species diversity and abundance data can be obtained quickly because of the time taken to process hundreds of samples, from soil DNA extraction to data output on the gene analyser, can be as little as 4 days. � 2008 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)445-461
    Number of pages17
    Issue number5-6
    Publication statusPublished - 2007


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