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Depth distribution of soil organic matter and burrowing activity of earthworms—mesocosm study using X-ray tomography and luminophores

Abstract : Earthworms feed on organic matter present at the soil surface or within the soil. Thus, its distribution in the soil profile is likely to greatly influence earthworm behavior and, in turn, their burrow system. To test this idea, two anecic and two endogeic earthworm species were introduced into repacked soil cores (depth = 30 cm) upper half filled with a top soil containing 4% organic matter (0–15 cm) and lower half filled with a deep soil at 2% organic matter (15–30 cm). Earthworm behavior was studied using X-ray tomography combined with luminophores (colored particulate tracers of 63–125 μm size) placed at 0, 3, and 12 cm depth, a method widely used in sediment ecology. We observed that anecic and endogeic earthworms had contrasting reactions to the conditions with only endogeic species burrowing more intensively in the upper part. From a quantitative point of view, only a few percent of luminophores were displaced. However, luminophore displacements also provided qualitative information to complement the tomography: (i) endogeic species and especially Aporrectodea caliginosa bioturbated the most soil close to the surface (3 cm depth) and (ii) the two anecic species influenced the luminophore distribution differentially with Lumbricus terrestris displacing significantly more luminophores, whatever their initial depth, than Aporrectodea nocturna due to intense surface cast activity. Beyond methodological developments, our study found that endogeic earthworms burrow more in zones with higher organic matter contents and this explains why they are mainly found close to the soil surface in non-tilled soils.
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Yvan Capowiez, Franck Gilbert, Audrey Vallat, Jean-Christophe Poggiale, Jean-Marc Bonzom. Depth distribution of soil organic matter and burrowing activity of earthworms—mesocosm study using X-ray tomography and luminophores. Biology and Fertility of Soils, Springer Verlag, 2021, pp.0. ⟨10.1007/s00374-020-01536-y⟩. ⟨hal-03148350⟩

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