Earthworms and soil microorganisms contribute to soil health, quality, and fertility, but their importance in agricultural soils is often underestimated. This study aims at examining whether and to what extent the presence of earthworms (Eisenia sp.) affected the (a) soil bacterial community composition, (b) litter decomposition, and (c) plant growth (Brassica oleracea L., broccoli; Vicia faba L., faba bean). We performed a mesocosm experiment in which plants were grown outdoors for four months with or without earthworms. Soil bacterial community structure was evaluated by a 16S rRNA-based metabarcoding approach. Litter decomposition rates were determined by using the tea bag index (TBI) and litter bags (olive residues). Earthworm numbers almost doubled throughout the experimental period. Independently of the plant species, earthworm presence had a significant impact on the structure of soil bacterial community, in terms of enhanced alpha- and beta-diversity (especially that of Proteobacteria, Bacteroidota, Myxococcota, and Verrucomicrobia) and increased 16S rRNA gene abundance (+89% in broccoli and +223% in faba bean). Microbial decomposition (TBI) was enhanced in the treatments with earthworms, and showed a significantly higher decomposition rate constant (k(TBI)) and a lower stabilization factor (S-TBI), whereas decomposition in the litter bags (d(litter)) increased by about 6% in broccoli and 5% in faba bean. Earthworms significantly enhanced root growth (in terms of total length and fresh weight) of both plant species. Our results show the strong influence of earthworms and crop identity in shaping soil chemico-physical properties, soil bacterial community, litter decomposition and plant growth. These findings could be used for developing nature-based solutions that ensure the long-term biological sustainability of soil agro- and natural ecosystems.

Earthworm-Driven Changes in Soil Chemico-Physical Properties, Soil Bacterial Microbiota, Tree/Tea Litter Decomposition, and Plant Growth in a Mesocosm Experiment with Two Plant Species

Sofo, Adriano
;
Reyes, Francesco;
2023-01-01

Abstract

Earthworms and soil microorganisms contribute to soil health, quality, and fertility, but their importance in agricultural soils is often underestimated. This study aims at examining whether and to what extent the presence of earthworms (Eisenia sp.) affected the (a) soil bacterial community composition, (b) litter decomposition, and (c) plant growth (Brassica oleracea L., broccoli; Vicia faba L., faba bean). We performed a mesocosm experiment in which plants were grown outdoors for four months with or without earthworms. Soil bacterial community structure was evaluated by a 16S rRNA-based metabarcoding approach. Litter decomposition rates were determined by using the tea bag index (TBI) and litter bags (olive residues). Earthworm numbers almost doubled throughout the experimental period. Independently of the plant species, earthworm presence had a significant impact on the structure of soil bacterial community, in terms of enhanced alpha- and beta-diversity (especially that of Proteobacteria, Bacteroidota, Myxococcota, and Verrucomicrobia) and increased 16S rRNA gene abundance (+89% in broccoli and +223% in faba bean). Microbial decomposition (TBI) was enhanced in the treatments with earthworms, and showed a significantly higher decomposition rate constant (k(TBI)) and a lower stabilization factor (S-TBI), whereas decomposition in the litter bags (d(litter)) increased by about 6% in broccoli and 5% in faba bean. Earthworms significantly enhanced root growth (in terms of total length and fresh weight) of both plant species. Our results show the strong influence of earthworms and crop identity in shaping soil chemico-physical properties, soil bacterial community, litter decomposition and plant growth. These findings could be used for developing nature-based solutions that ensure the long-term biological sustainability of soil agro- and natural ecosystems.
2023
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11563/167156
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