Impact of Ecologically Different Earthworm Species on Soil Water Characteristics


A laboratory experiment was performed to assess the impact of ecologically different earthworm species on soil water characteristics, such as soil tension, water content, and water infiltration rate. Three earthworm species (Lumbricus rubellus, Aporrectodea caliginosa, Lumbricus terrestris) were exposed in soil columns (diameter 30cm, height 50cm) for 100 days with a total fresh earthworm biomass of 22.7 +/- 0.4 g per column, each in duplicate. Each column was equipped with tensiometers at 10 and 40 cm and FD-probes at 10 cm depth, to continuously measure the temporal development of soil tension and soil moisture. Additionally, 30 g of sieved and revvetted horse manure was placed on the soil surface as a food source. Precipitation events (10 mm) were Simulated at day 28 and day 64. At the end of the experiment the water infiltration rate and the runoff at 55 cm depth were determined. The results showed considerable evidence, that ecologically different earthworms modify soil water characteristics in different ways. The anecic L terrestris and the endogeic A. caliginosa showed the tendency to enhance the drying of the topsoil and subsoil. Their intensive and deep burrowing activity might enhance the exchange of water vapor due to a better aeration in soil. In contrast, the epigeic L rubellus tended to enhance the storage of soil moisture in the topsoil, which might be linked to lower rates of litter loss from soil surface and thus a thicker litter layer remaining. A. caliginosa led to considerable higher water infiltration rates and faster water discharges in the subsoil, relative to the other species, probably due to a high soil dwelling activity. (C) 2009 Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.