Earthworm casts form stable aggregates in physically degraded soils

Abdul Redha Abdulla Marashi, John Scullion

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (SciVal)

Abstract

Topsoils affected by surface mining suffer severe physical degradation and lose most of their earthworm populations. After mining, replaced soils are planted to grassland and managed to improve soil structure. Earthworm inoculation into selected restored areas produced populations similar to those of undisturbed soils within 3 years. Soil properties in inoculated areas were compared with those of controls to evaluate the contribution of casts to bulk soil aggregation, and soil organic matter and root content responses to earthworm activity. Crumb porosity and coarse particle content were measured in water-stable macro-aggregates and earthworm casts to establish whether aggregates were formed by earthworms. Over a 5- to 6-year period, inoculation increased stable aggregation (>2 μm, >60 μm and >3 mm), even at 0- to 5-cm depth where it reduced soil organic matter content. Productivity and root content were also increased by inoculation; roots and organic matter were re-distributed to greater depth. Crumb porosity decreased with casts > aggregates (inoculated plots) > aggregates (control plots). Coarse particle content increased with casts <aggregates (inoculated plots) <aggregates (control plots). Coarse particle and porosity data were consistent with much of the newly aggregated soil being processed and formed by earthworms as casts. Whilst levels of soil organic matter were often closely associated with percentage stable aggregation, root content showed weaker associations. Aggregation percentage was most closely associated with abundance of Aporrectodea longa, although at particular depths significant correlations were also obtained for Aporrectodea caliginosa and Lumbricus terrestris. Results suggest that earthworms, rather than plant roots, initiate aggregation in severely degraded grassland soils.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-380
Number of pages6
JournalBiology and Fertility of Soils
Volume37
Issue number6
Early online date17 Apr 2003
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 01 May 2003

Keywords

  • Earthworms
  • Casts
  • Roots
  • Organic matter
  • Soil aggregation

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