Photo Credit: D.E. Walter

Soil Mites

Welcome to the mite section of ABMI's Biodiversity Browser. Scroll down the page to learn more about mites and why they are important to monitor. Or click the button below to find out more about individual mite species in Alberta.

Photo Credit: D.E. Walter

Introduction

Oribatid mites are small 8-legged organisms related to spiders and ticks. Also referred to as beetle mites, moss mites or armoured mites, they typically live in the soil and are an important part of the soil food web.

Facts About Soil Mites

image Photo Credit: D.E. Walter

No larger than the tip of a ballpoint pen, several hundred thousand oribatid mites can be found in a cubic metre of healthy soil

  • Oribatid mites are also called armoured mites and beetle mites because they usually have hard bodies that protect them from being eaten and give them the appearance of miniature beetles. They have also been called moss mites because they can be found in high abundance in mossy habitats, but we also find them across a diversity of other habitats including arid regions of Alberta.
  • Oribatid mites mostly feed on fungi, bacteria and decomposing plant matter, thereby playing an important role in decomposition, nutrient cycling, and the formation and maintenance of soil structure.
  • While oribatid mites mostly live in the organic layers of soils, they can also be found above ground, including in trees and other vegetation, in arid regions, and in aquatic/semi-aquatic habitats including freshwater, brackish water and marine ecosystems.

Mite Diversity in Alberta

When the ABMI began sampling oribatid mites, 132 species were known to occur in Alberta. As of 2021, 384 species have been detected, including 223 new records to Alberta, 33 new to Canada, and 9 new to North America. In addition, 15 new species have been described, but there are upwards of 70 species that may be new to science.

Why Monitor Soil Mites

  • Oribatid mites are a good indicator of soil health, helping to ensure that soils are functioning as healthy living ecosystems that can sustain above-ground biodiversity including plants, animals and humans.
  • These mites play important ecological roles in soil formation and development and maintenance of soil structure, decomposition and nutrient cycling.
  • Oribatid mites have strong indicator qualities because they have stable populations, are easy to collect in the field, provide a strong signal of changes to the soil, and there are taxonomic resources to identify them to species.
  • Finally, oribatid mites have been used globally as an indicator of land cover changes as a result of natural and human disturbances, as well as of changes in soil properties.
image Photo Credit: D.E. Walter

Field Roamer (Oribatula sp. 1 DEW)

Research Spotlight

Response of Oribatid Mite Communities to Energy Footprint in the Oil Sands Region of Alberta

PURPOSE: In this study, we examine the relationship between the Oil Sands Region (OSR) energy footprint and oribatid mite abundance, diversity and community composition.

Background

Healthy, functioning soils are rich with soil organisms including oribatid mites. These mites are typically the most abundant arthropod in the soil and a strong indicator of soil health. In the OSR, energy sector activities disturb soils in a number of ways, for example: soil compaction from vehicle and foot traffic; removal of soil during mining activities; and replacement of soils during construction of well pads, industrial complexes and road networks. This study investigated how oribatid mite communities are affected by energy sector activities in the OSR.

Boreal Elephant-ear Mite (Galumna sp. 1 DEW) is associated with energy-related activities in the OSR.

Photo Credit: L.M. Lumley
Key Findings:
  • Oribatid mite total abundance was significantly lower at sites with mining or well sites compared to undisturbed sites, while species richness was significantly reduced by mining. 
  • Compared to undisturbed sites, mite diversity was lower at sites dominated by human footprint types that heavily impact soil integrity, such as mines, urban/industrial sites, roads and well sites. 
  • Mite community composition differed between sites with native vegetation and sites with intense disturbances, such as mines. For example, Paddle-legged Bishop's Hat Mite (Epidamaeus coxalis) and Yellow Box Mite (Euphthiracarus flavus) were associated with upland type forests, while Field Roamer Mite (Oribatula sp. 1 DEW) and Boreal Elephant-ear Mite (Galumna sp. 1 DEW) were associated with disturbed sites.

Meet ABMI's Resident Mite Experts

Dr. Lisa Lumley

Lead Scientist, Terrestrial Invertebrates

Dr. Lumley has over 20 years of research experience in biodiversity monitoring and invertebrate systematics, genomics and ecology. Her role with the ABMI includes examining soil biodiversity and soil health.

Victoria Giacobbo

Terrestrial Invertebrate Taxonomist

Victoria began pursuing her love for biological diversity in earnest by volunteering for the ABMI in 2014, and started her role as a terrestrial invertebrate taxonomist in 2016. In her spare time, Victoria enjoys playing soccer, camping and collecting insects. 

If you have questions about ABMI's mite monitoring program, please get in touch: llumley@ualberta.ca

Additional Resources and Publications

How do we monitor Oribatid mites?

Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. 2014. Terrestrial field data collection protocols (abridged version) 2014-03-21. Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, Alberta, Canada. Report available at: https://www.abmi.ca/home/publications/1-50/46.html


How do we identify Oribatid mites?

Walter, D.E., S. Latonas, K. Byers, and L.M. Lumley. 2014. Almanac of Alberta Oribatida, Part l, v2.4. Edmonton, Alberta. 542pp. Online access: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/352842283_Almanac_of_Alberta_Oribatida_Part_I_Version_24

Walter D.E., L.M. Lumley. 2021. Almanac of Alberta Acari. Part ll, Version 3.0. Edmonton, Alberta. 192pp. Online access: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/354269381_Almanac_of_Alberta_Acari_Part_II_Version_30


Selected publications:

image Photo Credit: D.E. Walter

Labrador Tea Horned Mite (Dentizetes ledensis)

Lupardus, R.C., J.P. Battigelli, A. Janz, and L.M. Lumley. 2021. Can soil invertebrates indicate well pad reclamation success on cultivated lands? Soil & Tillage Research 213:105082. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.still.2021.105082

Meehan, M.L., Z. Song, L.M. Lumley, T.P. Cobb, and H. Proctor. 2019. Soil mites as bioindicators of disturbance in the boreal forest in northern Alberta, Canada: Testing taxonomic sufficiency at multiple taxonomic levels. Ecological Indicators 102:349-365. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2019.02.043

McAdams, B.N., S.A. Quideau, M.J.B. Swallow, and L.M. Lumley. 2018. Oribatid mite recovery along a chronosequence of afforested boreal sites following oil sands mining. Forest Ecology and Management 422:281-293. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2018.04.034

Walter, D.E. and S. Latonas. 2013. A review of the ecology and distribution of Protoribates (Oribatida, Oripodoidea, Haplozetidae) in Alberta, Canada, with the description of a new species. Zootaxa 3620:483-499. https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.3620.3.9


Presentations:

Mites of Alberta Webinar. Available to view at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moAkFhKyKYk