An increasing number of empirical studies are challenging the central fundamentals on which the classical soil food web model is built. This model assumes that bacteria consume labile substrates twice as fast as fungi, and that mycorrhizal fungi do not decompose organic matter. Here, we build on emerging evidence that points to significant consumption of labile C by fungi, and to the ability of ectomycorrhizal fungi to decompose organic matter, to show that labile C constitutes a major and presently underrated source of C for the soil food web. We use a simple model describing the dynamics of a recalcitrant and a labile C pool and their consumption by fungi and bacteria to show that fungal and bacterial populations can coexist in a stable state with large inputs into the labile C pool and a high fungal use of labile C. We propose a new conceptual model for the bottom trophic level of the soil food web, with organic C consisting of a continuous pool rather than two or three distinct pools, and saprotrophic fungi using substantial amounts of labile C. Incorporation of these concepts will increase our understanding of soil food web dynamics and functioning under changing conditions.
de Vries, F. T., & Caruso, T. (2016). Eating from the same plate? Revisiting the role of labile carbon inputs in the soil food web. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.soilbio.2016.06.023