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Aerobic microbial activity in four tropical earthworm-soil systems. A mesocosm experiment

Abstract : Soil organic matter (SOM) quality and carbon (C) availability may be major features influencing the effect of earthworms on the aerobic processes in clayey tropical soils. In this study, we assessed the effect of an anecic (Polypheretima elongata), an endogeic (Pontoscolex corethrurus) and an epigeic (Eudrilus eugeniae) earthworm on the aerobic microbial activity of two tropical soils, a calcic Vertisol and an acid Ferralsol, with clay content >70% and very different organic C content and SOM stability. The soil–earthworm interaction was studied in a 6-month mesocosm experiment in a greenhouse using soils with and without (control soil) earthworm addition. Potential C mineralisation, actual net nitrogen (N) mineralisation and dehydrogenase activity (DHA), as indicators of the aerobic activity of the soils, and phosphorus (P) availability were determined during the trial. DHA was used as an indicator of the global aerobic activity. Earthworms had little effect on potential C mineralisation but significantly increased actual net N mineralisation. The increase in N mineralisation in the Vertisol was twice as great as, and longer (6 v. 3 months) than for the Ferralsol. Differences between soils for N mineralisation were associated with a less recalcitrant SOM in the Vertisol. Available P increased 10% in the earthworm treatments. Earthworm activity improved N and P availability. DHA was 15 times higher for the Vertisol than for the Ferralsol, but the positive effect of earthworms on DHA was greater for the Ferralsol. This effect was greater for E. eugeniae, probably because of surface burrows generated by this epigeic earthworm, which favoured oxygen entry into the soil. Differences between the two soils were greater for DHA than for C and N mineralisation, and this was observed for the control soils as well as for the earthworm treatments. This indicates that earthworm activity modified the rate of the aerobic processes but it did not affect the intrinsic biological properties of these tropical soils, which were controlled mainly by SOM quality and C availability.
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Jorge Sierra, Gladys Loranger-Merciris, Lucienne Desfontaines, Maryline Boval. Aerobic microbial activity in four tropical earthworm-soil systems. A mesocosm experiment. Soil Research, CSIRO Publishing, 2014, 52 (6), pp.584-592. ⟨10.1071/SR14034⟩. ⟨hal-02631073⟩

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