This is the first extensive study of soil protozoa of arid lands. Twenty-six samples from litters, soils, termitaria, and a cyanobacterial crust, collected from central and south Australian arid lands, were analyzed for numbers and species of gymnamoebae, ciliates, and testacea. Amoebae ranged from 1,000–5,000/g of material, and were two orders of magnitude more abundant than ciliates. Both groups increased in abundance and species richness from bare soils through spinifex to mulga to chenopod vegetations. Testacea ranged 900–5,000/g with similar species richness throughout vegetations, but reached 11,900/g with a doubling of species in a refugium in Kings Canyon. The most prevalent species of amoebae, ciliates, and testacea were taxa associated with ephemeral and disturbed habitats (r-selection). The cyanobacterial crust might be considered a micro-refugium because it contained a number of non-encysting protozoa, including Thecamoeba sp. and Nassula picta, feeding on cyanobacterial filaments. The numbers and species richness of protozoa under shrubs were greater than in bare soils, supporting the resource island hypothesis that desert plants create soil heterogeneity by localizing soil fertility under their canopies.
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Vol. 49 • No. 6