How Does the Soil Food Web Benefit Trees?
September 27, 2016
Here at Preservation Tree, we talk a lot about how to keep your trees healthy through preventative care. One of the most important factors in keeping your trees healthy is keeping your soil healthy. Healthy soil relies on an active soil food web.
What is the soil food web?
The soil food web is a complex system of organisms that live all or at least part of their lives in the soil. These organisms work together, by essentially feeding on each other in a complex food chain, that ultimately creates more healthy soil. Soil isn’t a static element. It is constantly changing and growing, just like a living organism. The more organic matter, water and nutrients we add to our soil, the more the living organisms within it can thrive. Soil that thrives grows trees that thrive.
How does the soil food web work?
It all starts with the sun! Plants are considered autotrophs, meaning they produce their own energy. They do this through photosynthesis that begins by plants taking energy from the sun. Animals are called heterotrophs because they eat the plants to make energy, as they cannot generate their own food. Animals and other organisms in the soil eat plants to create energy as their own part of of the soil food web.
The soil food web contains three levels of energy:
Plants are considered the “producers” that create the original source of energy from the sun.
Herbivores, are the “primary consumers’ of the plants. Protozoa, microarthropods, earthworms, mammals and insects are all herbivores that feed on plants.
Predators, the “secondary consumers,” are the last part of the food chain. They consume the herbivores to create their energy. Many insects, mammals and even some organisms living in your soil are considered predators.
These three levels of consumers will cycle over and over until the last part of the food chain comes into play, the “decomposers.” Bacteria and fungi break down dead plant and animal material, converting them to nutrients that your trees can absorb.
The soil food web is further proof that soil is a living, evolving part of our ecosystem and one that should be cared for as we do our trees and other landscape plants. By feeding the soil and aerating it, you can keep the soil food web in better balance.