Biodiversity Science ›› 2018, Vol. 26 ›› Issue (10): 1051-1059.doi: 10.17520/biods.2018086

• Reviews • Previous Article     Next Article

Ecological functions of millipedes in the terrestrial ecosystem

Mengru Wang, Shenglei Fu, Haixiang Xu, Meina Wang, Leilei Shi*()   

  1. College of Environment and Planning, Henan University, Kaifeng, Henan 475004
  • Received:2018-03-26 Accepted:2018-07-17 Online:2019-01-06
  • Shi Leilei
  • About author:# Co-first authors

Millipedes (Diplopoda) are a highly diverse group of soil invertebrates and play vital roles in terrestrial ecosystems. Millipedes contribute to the cycling of carbon and nutrients through their feeding activities and gut processes that help decompose litter. However, the functions of millipedes have been poorly researched compared to other groups of soil animals such as earthworms. Here, we briefly summarize the ecological functions of millipedes: Millipedes can fragment, consume and transform litter to accelerate its decomposition. Millipedes prefer large amounts of semi-decomposed litter and the efficiency of millipedes in assimilating litter can vary with litter source, temperature and microbial biomass in the litter. Millipedes can regulate the cycling of soil carbon and other key nutrients through feeding and excretion activities. Nitrogen enters to the soil when litter is fragmented by millipedes, but there are different views on how millipedes affect the soil carbon cycle. Millipede faeces decompose more rapidly than the pre-ingested litter. Such a transformation of litters to faeces would accelerate carbon cycling. However, other studies have suggested a relatively low decomposition rate of millipede faeces when compared with un-ingested litter, which could contribute to soil carbon sequestration and stabilization. In addition, the survival of millipedes affects soil phosphorus cycle. They can increase the content of available phosphorus in soil. Millipedes interact with other soil animals such as earthworms and also can regulate the abundances of soil microorganisms. Our review indicates that further studies are required to better understand and document the role of millipedes in ecosystem functioning.

Key words: millipede, soil fauna, terrestrial ecosystem, ecological functions

Fig. 1

Ecological functions of millipedes"

Table 1

Assimilation efficiency of millipedes"




Assimilation efficiency (%)
Glomeridae Glomeris G. marginata 荷兰栎树林
Oak forests in the Netherlands
夏栎 Quercus robur 9%

Glomeridae Glomeris G. marginata 法国南部蒙彼利埃西北
25 km的冬青栎森林
Q. ilex forest of Puechabon, 25 km north-west of Montpellier (southern France)
冬青栎 Quercus ilex 6% David & Gillon, 2002
Xystodesmidae Harpaphe H.haydeniana 加拿大马尔科姆·纳普研究森林——
Malcolm Knapp Research
Forest, near the University
of British Columbia campus
in Vancouver
北美乔柏 Thuja plicata
西加云杉 Picea sitchensis
Tsuga heterophylla
Pseudotsuga menziesii
10% Cárcamo et al, 2000
Spirostreptidae Orthoporus O. ornatus 美国德克萨斯州大弯国家公园
Big Bend National Park, Texas, USA
麻黄属 Ephedra
Prosopis glandulosa
20-37% Wooten & Crawford, 1975
Pachybolidae Trigoniulus T. lumbricinus 古巴 Cuba 咖啡属 Coffea
木槿 Hibiscus
黍属 Panicum
55% Pobozsny et al, 1992
[1] Adis J (2002) Taxonomical classification and biodiversity. ACM Transactions on Graphics, 33, 1-10.
[2] Allison SD, Treseder KK (2010) Warming and drying suppress microbial activity and carbon cycling in boreal forest soils. Global Change Biology, 14, 2898-2909.
[3] Ambarish CN, Sridhar KR (2016) Chemical and microbial characterization of feed and faeces of two giant pill-millipedes from forests in the western Ghats of India. Pedosphere, 26, 861-871.
[4] Anderson JM, Bignell DE (1980) Bacteria in the food, gut contents and faeces of the litter-feeding millipede Glomeris marginata (Villers). Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 12, 251-254.
[5] Anderson JM, Ineson P (1984) Interactions Between Microorganisms and Soil Invertebrates in Nutrient Flux Pathways of Forest Ecosystems. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
[6] Anderson JM, Ineson P, Huish SA (1983) Nitrogen and cation mobilization by soil fauna feeding on leaf litter and soil organic matter from deciduous woodlands. Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 15, 463-467.
[7] Ashwini KM, Sridhar KR (2005) Leaf litter preference and conversion by a saprophagous tropical pill millipede, Arthrosphaera magna, Attems. Pedobiologia, 49, 307-316.
[8] Bailey PT (1989) Millipede parasitoid Pelidnoptera nigripennis (F.) (Diptera: Sciomyzidae) for the biological control of the millipede Ommatoiulus moreleti (Lucas) (Diplopoda: Julida: Julidae) in Australia. Bulletin of Entomological Research, 7, 381-391.
[9] Barlow CA (1957) A factorial analysis of distribution in three species of Diplopods. Tijdschrift Voor Entomologie, 100, 349-426.
[10] Bardgett RD, Wardle DA (2010) Aboveground-belowground Linkages:Biotic Interactions, Ecosystem Processes, and Global Change. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
[11] Bonkowski M, Scheu S, Schaefer M (1998) Interactions of earthworms (Octolasion lacteum), millipedes (Glomeris marginata) and plants (Hordelymus europaeus) in a beechwood on a basalt hill: Implications for litter decomposition and soil formation. Applied Soil Ecology, 9, 161-166.
[12] Brewer MS, Spruill CL, Rao NS, Bond JE (2012) Phylogenetics of the millipede genus Brachycybe Wood, 1864 (Diplopoda: Platydesmida: Andrognathidae): Patterns of deep evolutionary history and recent speciation. Molecular Phylogenetics & Evolution, 64, 232-242.
[13] Brogden MC, Cortes C, Vandevoort AR, Snyder BA (2018) Soil nitrification analysis and millipede contribution. Georgia Journal of Science, 76, 117.
[14] Buch AC, Sisinno CLS, Correia MEF, Silva-Filho EV (2018) Food preference and ecotoxicological tests with millipedes in litter contaminated with mercury. Science of the Total Environment, 633, 1173-1182.
[15] Byzov BA, Tretyakova EB, Zvyagintsev DG, Claus H, Filip Z (1996) Effects of soil invertebrates on the survival of some genetically engineered bacteria in leaf litter and soil. Biology and Fertility of Soils, 23, 221-228.
[16] Byzov BA, Kurakov AV, Tretyakova EB, Thanh VN, Luu ND, Rabinovich YM (1998a) Principles of the digestion of microorganisms in the gut of soil millipedes: Specificity and possible mechanisms. Applied Soil Ecology, 9, 145-151.
[17] Byzov BA, Thanh VN, Babeva IP, Tretyakova EB, Dyvak IA, Yam R (1998b) Killing and hydrolytic activities of the gut fluid of the millipede Pachyiulus flavipes C. L. Koch on yeast cells. Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 30, 1137-1145.
[18] Cárcamo HA, Abe TA, Prescott CE, Holl FB, Chanway CP (2000) Influence of millipedes on litter decomposition, N mineralization, and microbial communities in a coastal forest in British Columbia, Canada. Canadian Journal of Forest Research, 30, 817-826.
[19] Choudhari CR, Dumbare YK, Theurkar SV (2014) Diversity of millipedes along the Northern Western Ghats, Rajgurunagar (MS), India (Arthropod: Diplopod). Journal of Entomology and Zoology Studies, 2, 254-257.
[20] Coleman DC, Crossley DA (1996) Fundamentals of Soil Ecology. Academic Press, San Diego, CA.
[21] Crawford CS (1975) Food, ingestion rates, and assimilation in the desert millipede Orthoporus ornatus (Girard) (Diplopoda). Oecologia, 20, 231-236.
[22] David JF, Gillon D (2002) Annual feeding rate of the millipede Glomeris marginata, on holm oak (Quercus ilex) leaf litter under Mediterranean conditions. Pedobiologia, 46, 42-52.
[23] Devi DS, Prabhoo NR (1990) Studies on food and feeding habits, food preference and feeding mechanism in the millipede Jonespeltis splendidus Verhoeff in captivity. Uttar Pradesh Journal Zoology, 10, 48-56.
[24] Drift JVD (1975) Progress in Soil Zoology. Springer, the Netherlands.
[25] Edwards CA, Hendrix PF (2004) Earthworm Ecology, 2nd edn. St. Lucie Press, Boca Raton.
[26] Fan YL, Hu N, Ding SY, Liang GF, Lu XL (2016) Progress in terrestrial ecosystem services and biodiversity. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 36, 4583-4593. (in Chinese with English abstract)
[范玉龙, 胡楠, 丁圣彦, 梁国付, 卢训令 (2016) 陆地生态系统服务与生物多样性研究进展. 生态学报, 36, 4583-4593.]
[27] Frouz J, Špaldoňová A, Fričová K, Bartuška M (2014) The effect of earthworms (Lumbricus rubellus) and simulated tillage on soil organic carbon in a long-term microcosm experiment. Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 78, 58-64.
[28] Fujimaki R, Sato Y, Okai N, Kaneko N (2010) The train millipede (Parafontaria laminata) mediates soil aggregation and N dynamics in a Japanese larch forest. Geogerma, 159, 216-220.
[29] Golovatch SI, Kime RD (2009) Millipede (Diplopoda) distributions: A review. Soil Organisms, 81, 337-346.
[30] Han HQ, Zhang JY, Ma G, Zhang XD, Bai YM (2018) Advances on impact of climate change on ecosystem services. Journal of Nanjing Forestry University (Natural Science Edition), 42, 184-190. (in Chinese with English abstract)
[韩会庆, 张娇艳, 马庚, 张新鼎, 白玉梅 (2018) 气候变化对生态系统服务影响的研究进展. 南京林业大学学报(自然科学版), 42, 184-190.]
[31] Hashimoto M, Kaneko N, Ito MT, Toyota A (2004) Exploitation of litter and soil by the train millipede Parafontaria laminata (Diplopoda: Xystodesmidae) in larch plantation forests in Japan. Pedobiologia, 48, 71-81.
[32] He JZ, Lu YH, Fu BJ (2015) Frontiers of Soil Biology. Science Press, Beijing. (in Chinese)
[贺纪正, 陆雅海, 傅伯杰 (2015) 土壤生物学前沿. 科学出版社, 北京.]
[33] Holdsworth AR, Frelich LE, Reich PB (2007) Regional extent of an ecosystem engineer: Earthworm invasion in northern hardwood forests. Ecological Applications, 17, 1666-1677.
[34] Hopkin SP, Read HJ (1992) The Biology of Millipedes. Quarterly Review of Biology. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
[35] Iwashima N, Kaneko N, Sato K, Wakatsuki T, Masunaga, T (2011) Comparison of the faecal chemical properties of two geophagous millipede species Parafontaria laminata and Parafontaria tonominea (Xystodemidae) considering effects of habitat density and type of food. Edaphologia, 88, 43-53. (in Japanese with English summary)
[36] Joly FX, Coulis M, Gérard A (2015) Litter-type specific microbial responses to the transformation of leaf litter into millipede feces. Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 86, 17-23.
[37] Jousset A, Scheu S, Bonkowski M (2008) Secondary metabolite production facilitates establishment of rhizobacteria by reducing both protozoan predation and the competitive effects of indigenous bacteria. Functional Ecology, 22, 714-719.
[38] Kaneko N (1999) Effect of millipede Parafontaria tonominea Attems (Diplopoda: Xystodesmidae) adults on soil biological activities: A microcosm experiment. Ecological Research, 14, 271-279.
[39] Kheirallah AM (1990) Fragmentation of leaf litter by a natural population of the millipede Julus scandinavius (Latzel 1884). Biology and Fertility of Soils, 10, 202-206.
[40] Köiuhler HR, Alberti G (1990) Morphology of the mandibles in the millipedes (Diplopoda, Arthropoda). Zoologica Scripta, 19, 195-202.
[41] Lavelle P, Spain AV (2001) Soil Ecology. Kluwer Academic Publishers,Dordrecht.
[42] Liao CH, Chen MQ, Chen JH (1992) Population ecology of two species of terrestrial isopods and their role in litter decomposition. Acta Zoologica Sinica, 38, 23-29. (in Chinese with English abstract)
[廖崇惠, 陈茂乾, 陈锦华 (1992) 两种陆栖等足类的种群及其分解落叶的作用. 动物学报, 38, 23-30.]
[43] Lyford WH (1943) Palatability of freshly fallen leaves of forest trees to millipedes. Ecology, 24, 252-261.
[44] Makoto K, Arai M, Kaneko N (2014) Change the menu? Species-dependent feeding responses of millipedes to climate warming and the consequences for plant-soil nitrogen dynamics. Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 72, 19-25.
[45] Maraun M, Scheu S (1996) Changes in microbial biomass, respiration and nutrient status of beech (Fagus sylvatica) leaf litter processed by millipedes (Glomeris marginata). Oecologia, 107, 131-140.
[46] Marek PE, Bond JE (2006) Phylogenetic systematics of the colorful, cyanide-producing millipedes of appalachia (Polydesmida, Xystodesmidae, Apheloriini) using a total evidence Bayesian Approach. Molecular Phylogenetics & Evolution, 41, 704-729.
[47] Naveed M, Moldrup P, Arthur E, Holmstrup M, Nicolaisen M, Tuller M, Herath L, Hamamoto S, Kawamoto K, Komatsu T, Vogeland H, Jonge L (2014) Simultaneous loss of soil biodiversity and functions along a copper contamination gradient: When soil goes to sleep. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 78, 1239-1250.
[48] Oeyen JP, Wesener T (2018) A first phylogenetic analysis of the pill millipedes of the order glomerida, with a special assessment of mandible characters (Myriapoda, Diplopoda, Pentazonia). Arthropod Structure & Development, 47, 214-228.
[49] Pobozsny M, Gonzales Oliver R, Rodriguez ME (1992) The role of Trigonoiulus lumbricinus Gerst. (Diplopoda) in the decomposition of leaf litter in some plant communities of Cuba. Opuscula Zoologica Budapest, 25, 89-93.
[50] Rawlins AJ, Bull ID, Poirier N, Ineson P, Evershed RP (2006) The biochemical transformation of oak (Quercus robur) leaf litter consumed by the pill millipede (Glomeris marginata). Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 38, 1063-1076.
[51] Reichle DE, Shanks MH, Crossley DA (1969) Calcium, potassium, and sodium content of forest floor arthropods. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 62, 57-62.
[52] Rong H, Fan HL, Li Q, Li J, Hong W, Wu CZ (2011) Effects of simulated nitrogen deposition on soil macrofauna in agroecosystem. Journal of North East Forestry University, 39(1), 85-88. (in Chinese with English abstract)
[荣海, 范海兰, 李茜, 李键, 洪伟, 吴承祯 (2011) 模拟氮沉降对农田大型土壤动物的影响. 东北林业大学学报, 39(1), 85-88.]
[53] Sakwa WN (1974) A consideration of the chemical basis of food preference in millipedes. Symposium of Zoological Society of London, 32, 329-346.
[54] Scheu S, Wolters V (1991) Influence of fragmentation and bioturbation on the decomposition of 14C-labelled beech leaf litter. Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 23, 1029-1034.
[55] Scheu S (1987) The role of substrate feeding earthworms (Lumbricidae) for bioturbation in a beechwood soil. Oecologia, 72, 192-196.
[56] Shao YH, Zhang WX, Liu SJ, Wang XL, Fu SL (2015) Diversity and function of soil fauna. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 35, 6614-6625. (in Chinese with English abstract)
[邵元虎, 张卫信, 刘胜杰, 王晓丽, 傅声雷 (2015) 土壤动物多样性及其生态功能. 生态学报, 35, 6614-6625.]
[57] Shelley RM (2003) Taxonomy of extant Diplopoda (Millipeds) in the modern era: Perspectives for future advancements and observations on the global Diplopod community (Arthropoda: Diplopoda). Zootaxa, 1668, 343-362.
[58] Shelley RM, Shear WA (2005) A new milliped of the genus Stenozonium Shelley 1998 from Washington State, U.S.A.: First record of the genus and family from North of the Columbia River (Polyzoniida: Polyzoniidae). Zootaxa, 1017, 25-32.
[59] Sierwald P, Bond JE (2007) Current status of the Myriapod class Diplopoda (Millipedes): Taxonomic diversity and phylogeny. Annual Review of Entomology, 52, 401-420.
[60] Silva VMD, Antoniolli ZI, Jacques RJS, Ott R, Andrade FV, Passos RR (2017) Influence of the tropical millipede, Glyphiulus granulatus (Gervais, 1847), on aggregation, enzymatic activity, and phosphorus fractions in the soil. Geoderma, 289, 135-141.
[61] Smit AM, Van Aarde RJ (2001) The influence of millipedes on selected soil elements: A microcosm study on three species occurring on coastal sand dunes. Functional Ecology, 15, 51-59.
[62] Snyder BA, Callaham MAJ, Lowe CN, Hendrix PF (2013) Earthworm invasion in North America: Food resource competition affects native millipede survival and invasive earthworm reproduction. Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 57, 212-216.
[63] Suzuki Y, Grayston SJ, Prescott CE (2013) Effects of leaf litter consumption by millipedes (Harpaphe haydeniana) on subsequent decomposition depends on litter type. Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 57, 116-123.
[64] Tajovský K, Santruckova H, Hanel L, Balik V, Lukesova A (1992) Decomposition of faecal pellets of the millipede Glomeris hexasticha (Diplopoda) in forest soil. Pedobiologia, 36, 146-158.
[65] Toyota A, Kaneko N, Ito MT (2006) Soil ecosystem engineering by the train millipede Parafontaria laminata, in a Japanese larch forest. Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 38, 1840-1850.
[66] Wang MN, Lu XL, Ding SY, Ren JY, Bian ZQ, Xu Z (2017) Pollinator diversity in different habitats of the agricultural landscape in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River based on the three-color pan trap method. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 37, 148-155.
[67] Wolters V (2000) Invertebrate control of soil organic matter stability. Biology and Fertility of Soils, 31, 1-19.
[68] Wooten RC, Crawford CS (1975) Food, ingestion rates, and assimilation in the desert millipede Orthoporus ornatus (Girard) (Diplopoda). Oecologia, 20, 231-236.
[69] Yin XQ, Song B, Qiu LL (2007) Dynamic characteristic of N, P, K in the litter-soil fauna-soil system of mixed Pinus koraiensis and broad-leaved forest. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 27, 128-134. (in Chinese with English abstract)
[殷秀琴, 宋博, 邱丽丽 (2007) 红松阔叶混交林凋落物-土壤动物-土壤系统中N、P、K的动态特征. 生态学报, 27, 128-134.]
[70] Zhang WX, Chen DM, Zhao CC (2007) Functions of earthworm in ecosystem. Biodiversity Science, 15, 142-153. (in Chinese with English abstract)
[张卫信, 陈迪马, 赵灿灿 (2007) 蚯蚓在生态系统中的作用. 生物多样性, 15, 142-153.]
[71] Zhang XP, Li CY, Zhang SC (2001) Study of the function of millipedes in substance decomposition. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 21, 75-79. (in Chinese with English abstract)
[张雪萍, 李春艳, 张思冲 (2001) 马陆在森林生态系统物质转化中的功能研究. 生态学报, 21, 75-79.]
[1] Ying Chen. (2020) Techniques and methods for field warming manipulation experiments in terrestrial ecosystems . Chin J Plant Ecol, 44(生态技术与方法专辑): 0-0.
[2] Zhao-Zhong FENG Yansen Xu Bo Shang. (2020) Review on FACE (Free-Air Concentration Enrichment) techniques, experimental approach and its application in the field of global change ecology . Chin J Plant Ecol, 44(生态技术与方法专辑): 0-0.
[3] Da TiGe Dongdong Wang Zhenke Zhu Liang Wei Xiaomeng Wei. (2020) Tracing technology of carbon isotope and its applications to studies of carbon cycling in terrestrial ecosystem . Chin J Plant Ecol, 44(生态技术与方法专辑): 0-0.
[4] Zhao-Zhong FENG Li Pin You GuoZhang Zheng-zhen Li Qin Ping Long JinPeng Shuo Liu. (2020) Impacts of elevated carbon dioxide concentration on terrestrial ecosystems: Problems and prospective . Chin J Plant Ecol, 44(全球变化与生态系统专辑): 0-0.
[5] Zhao-Zhong FENG Xiangyang Yuan Li Pin Bo Shang Qin Ping Tingjian Hu Shuo Liu. (2020) Progress in the Effects of Elevated Ground-Level Ozone on Terrestrial Ecosystem . Chin J Plant Ecol, 44(全球变化与生态系统专辑): 0-0.
[6] Guiyao Zhou ZHOU Lingyan 钧炯 邵 Xuhui Zhou. (2020) Research progresses in the response of terrestrial ecosystems to extreme drought . Chin J Plant Ecol, 44(全球变化与生态系统专辑): 0-0.
[7] HUANG Mei, WANG Na, WANG Zhao-Sheng, GONG He. (2019) Modeling phosphorus effects on the carbon cycle in terrestrial ecosystems . Chin J Plant Ecol, 43(6): 471-479.
[8] Jingqi Sun, Quan Chen, Hangyu Li, Yanfen Chang, Hede Gong, Liang Song, Huazheng Lu. (2019) Progress on the clonality of epiphytic ferns . Biodiv Sci, 27(11): 1184-1195.
[9] Yu Zhang, Zhenggao Xiao, Linhui Jiang, Lei Qian, Xiaoyun Chen, Fajun Chen, Feng Hu, Manqiang Liu. (2018) Nitrogen levels modify earthworm-mediated tomato growth and resistance to pests . Biodiv Sci, 26(12): 1296-1307.
[10] Xiuqin Yin, Yan Tao, Haixia Wang, Chen Ma, Xinchang Kou, Huan Xu, Dong Cui. (2018) Forest soil fauna ecology in Northeast China: Review and prospect . Biodiv Sci, 26(10): 1083-1090.
[11] Yining Wu, He Wang, Haixiu Zhong, Nan Xu, Jinbo Li, Jifeng Wang, Hongwei Ni, Hongfei Zou. (2018) The response of diverse soil fauna communities to elevated CO2 concentrations in Sanjiang Plain . Biodiv Sci, 26(10): 1127-1132.
[12] LI Ming-Ze,WANG Bin,FAN Wen-Yi,ZHAO Dan-Dan. (2015) Simulation of forest net primary production and the effects of fire disturbance in Northeast China . Chin J Plan Ecolo, 39(4): 322-332.
[13] Zhizhong Yuan, Yang Cui, Shaokui Yan. (2013) Effect of leaf litter quantity and type on forest soil fauna and biological quality . Biodiv Sci, 21(2): 206-213.
[14] LIU Rui-Long, YANG Wan-Qin, TAN Bo, WANG Wen-Jun, NI Xiang-Yin, and WU Fu-Zhong. (2013) Effects of soil fauna on N and P dynamics at different stages during the first year of litter decomposition in subalpine and alpine forests of western Sichuan . Chin J Plan Ecolo, 37(12): 1080-1090.
[15] Yongheng Zhu, Xiaohui Zhang, Fei Shen, Lin Lu. (2012) Community structures of soil fauna in reclaimed copper mine tailings and suburb forest land . Biodiv Sci, 20(6): 725-734.
Full text