Environmental influences on the spatial and temporal distribution of soil macrofauna in a smallholder agriforestry system of western Honduras

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis presents the findings of an investigation of the spatial and temporal distribution of soil macrofauna at multiple scales within smallholder agriforestry fields in a remote, mountainous area of western Honduras. Since 1990, smallholder farmers in the study area have switched from traditional slash-and-burn agriculture to a form of slash-and-mulch agriforestry based on cultivating maize, beans and sorghum amongst dispersed trees. The principal objective was to examine the influence of the slash-and-mulch agricultural system on soil macrofauna abundance, biomass and community composition, and relate soil macrofauna distribution patterns to environmental variables. The initial stage of the research comprised transect-based sampling of soil macrofauna and biophysical variables in four common land uses of the study area. All four land uses (secondary forest, young milpa (agriforestry), mature milpa, and pasture) supported abundant, diverse and heterogeneous soil macrofauna communities, with few notable differences in soil macrofauna distribution among land uses. The most abundant soil macrofauna taxa were termites, ants, earthworms and beetles. Of the 'explanatory' environmental variables that were measured (including land use and selected soil properties, vegetation characteristics and topographic variables), those that had the strongest relationships with soil macrofauna abundance were land use, tree density and soil organic matter content. The second stage of the research was spatially-orientated and used stratified sampling based on within-field differences in farmer-defined soil type, as well as grid-based sampling of soil macrofauna surface activity. There was substantial within-field variation in soil type and topography, which was related to distribution patterns of at least one agriculturally-important soil macrofauna taxon. Earthworm activity was higher in areas of fertile soil and lower slope positions. At a finer scale, there was a positive spatial correlation between tree distribution and earthworm casting activity. The final phase situated the biophysical research in the local socio-economic context through participant observation and interviews with farmers. The results of the three phases of the study were incorporated into an original conceptual model of the relationships among soil macrofauna and environmental variables in the study area across multiple spatial scales and along a chronosequence of land use changes. Specific pointers are provided for further research on the role of soil fauna in influencing soil structure, nutrient cycling and pest species abundance, and for further investigating local knowledge and the socio-economic and cultural drivers of land use change.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2008


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