Soil fauna play a key role in nutrient cycling and decomposition, and in recent years, researchers have become more and more interested in this compartment of terrestrial ecosystems. In addition, soil fauna can act as ecosystem engineers by creating, modifying, and maintaining the habitat for other organisms. Ecologists usually utilize live catches in pitfalls traps as a standard method to study the activity of epigeic fauna in addition to relative abundance. Counts in pitfall traps can be used as estimates of relative activity to compare among experimental treatments. This requires taking independent estimates of abundance (e.g., by sifting soil litter, mark–recapture), which can then be used as covariates in linear models to compare the levels of fauna activity (trap catches) among treatments. However, many studies show that the use of pitfall traps is not the most adequate method to estimate soil fauna relative abundances, and these concerns may be extensible to estimating activity. Here, we present two new types of traps devised to study activity in litter fauna, and which we call “cul-de-sac” and “basket traps”, respectively. We experimentally show that, at least for litter dwellers, these new traps are more appropriate to estimate fauna activity than pitfall traps because: (1) pitfall traps contain 3.5× more moisture than the surrounding environment, potentially attracting animals towards them when environmental conditions are relatively dry; (2) cul-de-sac and basket traps catch ca. 4× more of both meso- and macrofauna than pitfall traps, suggesting that pitfall traps are underestimating activity; and (3) pitfall traps show a bias towards collecting 1.5× higher amounts of predators, which suggests that predation rates are higher within pitfall traps. We end with a protocol and recommendations for how to use these new traps in ecological experiments and surveys aiming at estimating soil arthropod activity.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited