Earthworm Effects without Earthworms: Inoculation of Raw Organic Matter with Worm-Worked Substrates Alters Microbial Community Functioning
Earthworms are key organisms in organic matter decomposition because of the interactions they establish with soil microorganisms. They enhance decomposition rates through the joint action of direct effects (i.e. effects due to direct earthworm activity such as digestion, burrowing, etc) and indirect effects (i.e. effects derived from earthworm activities such as cast ageing). Here we test whether indirect earthworm effects affect microbial community functioning in the substrate, as when earthworms are present (i. e., direct effects).
Metode og funn
To address these questions we inoculated fresh organic matter (pig manure) with worm-worked substrates (vermicompost) produced by three different earthworm species. Two doses of each vermicompost were used (2.5 and 10%). We hypothesized that the presence of worm-worked material in the fresh organic matter will result in an inoculum of different microorganisms and nutrients. This inoculum should interact with microbial communities in fresh organic matter, thus promoting modifications similar to those found when earthworms are present. Inoculation of worm-worked substrates provoked significant increases in microbial biomass and enzyme activities (β-glucosidase, cellulase, phosphatase and protease). These indirect effects were similar to, although lower than, those obtained in pig manure with earthworms (direct and indirect earthworm effects). In general, the effects were not dose-dependent, suggesting the existence of a threshold at which they were triggered.
Our data reveal that the relationships between earthworms and microorganisms are far from being understood, and suggest the existence of several positive feedbacks during earthworm activity as a result of the interactions between direct and indirect effects, since their combination produces stronger modifications to microbial biomass and enzyme activity.