Forests around the world are severely fragmented due to conversion to other land-use types.
Small and isolated forest fragments contain large proportions of forest edge, which store more
carbon and have a faster nutrient cycling than forest interiors. Hence, if forest edges are ignored in
carbon models, total carbon stocks are underestimated. A large part of all aboveground plant
material enters the soil as litter, which is then decomposed by soil organisms. They are the engine
of carbon and nutrient mineralisation, making nutrients again available for plants. The transfer of
nutrients through the soil food web in forest edges is poorly understood, however.
To gain insight into the soil food web along forest edge-to-interior gradients and the link with
carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling, we will perform a comprehensive literature study, set
up a large-scale field experiment, and model the brown food web. The meta-analysis will provide
data on soil organism distribution and litter decomposition in small forest fragments, which will
inform the setup of our field experiment. We will experimentally study the carbon and nitrogen
dynamics through the food web in forest edges and interiors in various environmental contexts in
Europe. By parameterizing a food web model and simulating decomposition rates in forest edges
and interiors, we will generate mechanistic insights into the impact of forest edges on carbon
sequestration and, subsequently, climate modelling.