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Enchytraeid worms (Oligochaeta) enhance carbon mineralisation in organic upland soils.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>06/2000
<mark>Journal</mark>European Journal of Soil Science
Issue number2
Number of pages8
Pages (from-to)185-192
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


We investigated the functional role of enchytraeid worms (Oligochaeta) in organic upland soils experimentally, because that role of these animals is little known. We made microcosms of intact soil cores cut from two depths, 0–4 cm and 4–8 cm, of a Cambic Stagnohumic Gley from the Moor House National Nature Reserve (UK). Enchytraeids were added to half of the microcosms, resulting in four treatments: litter (L), litter + enchytraeids (L + E), soil (S) and soil + enchytraeids (S + E). Triplicates of each treatment were established, and all microcosms (60) were then incubated in the dark at 15°C, arranged in a fully randomized design. The experiment ran over 110 days, with five destructive harvests at days 10, 25, 50, 75 and 110, when microbial measurements (soil respiration and biomass C) as well as measures of decomposition (nutrient concentration in leachates) were made. Enchytraeids almost doubled the availability of organic carbon (measured as dissolved organic carbon in soil leachates) in the surface (0–4 cm) microcosms only. There were no effects of enchytraeids on the release of inorganic N or P from either soil horizon, although the release of ammonium and phosphate was correlated with the number of enchytraeids in the microcosms. The depth from which the soil was taken exerted a strong influence on nutrient leaching, with almost six times more ammonium and four times more carbon being leached from the surface (0–4 cm) layer than from the more decomposed (4–8 cm) horizon. There was little nitrate leaching from any of the treatments, with only one-quarter as much nitrate leached from the surface (0–4 cm) as from the subsurface (4–8 cm) horizon. Enchytraeids had no detectable effect on microbial biomass, but they increased microbial respiration by 35% in the surface (0–4 cm) horizon. Because they enhanced microbial activity in this horizon we suggest that enchytraeids indirectly drive the processes of decomposition and nutrient mineralization in organic upland soils.