Epi-anecic rather than strict-anecic earthworms enhance soil enzymatic activities

Abstract : Earthworms in interaction with soil microorganisms play a key role in litter decomposition. Moreover, as soil engineers, earthworms modify microbial communities and their enzymatic activities. Most studies focusing on earthworms and soil enzymatic activities compare distinct ecological categories of earthworms whereas their contributions and interactions within a given ecological category remain largely unknown. In this context, the aims of the present study were to determine and compare the contribution of (1) three strict-anecic earthworm species, (2) three epi-anecic earthworm species and (3) the pairwise interactions between these different species on Lolium perenne leaf litter decomposition and soil microbial activity. After 30 days of incubation, the surface litter mass loss and five soil enzymatic activities (FDAse, β-D-glucosidase, cellobiohydrolase, leucine amino-peptidase and acid phosphatase) were measured in both earthworm burrows and middens. In mono-specific assemblages, leaf litter mass loss and enzymatic activities were significantly higher in the presence of epi-anecic compared to strict-anecic species, whatever the species identity. These differences were higher for the β-D-glucosidase, leucine amino-peptidase and FDAse (+78%, +57% and +34%, respectively). Earthworm species interactions at both intra- and inter-ecological sub-categories did not enhance either leaf litter mass loss or enzymatic activities. Interestingly, FDAse activity was higher in earthworm burrows whereas acid phosphatase activity was higher in earthworm middens. These results indicate that the two anecic ecological sub-categories have different impacts on soil functioning and each of them regroups earthworm species with similar behaviour. This functional distinction highlights the key role of epi-anecic earthworms in fresh surface litter burial and decomposition, featuring their importance on nutrient cycling in soil and for microbial activities stimulation through resource availability.
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Kevin Hoeffner, Mathieu Santonja, Daniel Cluzeau, Cécile Monard. Epi-anecic rather than strict-anecic earthworms enhance soil enzymatic activities. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, Elsevier, 2019, 132, pp.93-100. ⟨10.1016/j.soilbio.2019.02.001⟩. ⟨hal-02055480⟩

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