Soil protozoa, and ciliates in particular, represent a microbial group abundant in the rhizosphere with an influential role on nutrient cycling. Under laboratory conditions, ciliates regulate the size and the composition of bacterial communities, and appear to stimulate ammonification and nitrification. In spite of their important ecological role, our understanding about the factors that control their diversity and abundance in natural forest ecosystems is still rudimentary. Plant species-specific interactions have been demonstrated between plants and soil bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi, due in part to the release of phytohormones and C- and N-rich exudates. We tested the hypothesis that the rhizosphere environments of different plant species also influence the species richness and abundance of soil ciliates. Plant effect, soil pH, moisture content, microbial biomass C, and inorganic nitrogen were measured among five plant species to determine the best predictor variables for soil ciliate species richness and total abundance in a subtropical moist forest in Puerto Rico. Based on an analysis of variance, we rejected the hypothesis that there was a plant species-specific effect on soil ciliates, unlike other microbial groups mentioned above. Using multiple regression analysis, we demonstrated that the flush of total inorganic nitrogen was the best predictor variable for both species richness and abundance of ciliates.
The Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology
Vol. 51 • No. 5
Vol. 51 • No. 5