Earthworms accelerate soil porosity turnover under watering conditions
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Bottinelli, N.; Henry des Tureaux, Thierry; Hallaire, V.; Mathieu, J.; Benard, Y.; Toan, Tran Duc; Jouquet, Pascal. 2010. Earthworms accelerate soil porosity turnover under watering conditions. Geoderma, 156(1-2):43-47. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geoderma.2010.01.006
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/40486
Endogeic earthworms significantly modify soil aggregation and porosity, which in turn control water flow in soil. This study aimed to determine how the earthworm casting activity influences soil porosity and its dynamics. The main hypothesis was that the deposition of belowground water-stable casts increases soil porosity and its water stability. First we quantified cast production by the endogeic earthworm species Metaphire posthuma under laboratory conditions for 15 days. Secondly, casts and the bulk soil were analysed for structural stability to water and were packed in soil and subjected to wetting under various conditions and energy levels. The shape and size of pores were measured by image analysis. Almost all casts (98%) were produced belowground. M. posthuma produced approximately five times its own weight per day. Casts were depleted in C and were more easily disaggregated by water than the bulk soil. Although casts initially led to larger soil porosity (on average 50%), their structure was unstable. As a consequence, water inputs led to a faster decrease in soil porosity in the presence of casts. Large pores in between casts were rapidly replaced by small elongated and rounded pores. These results suggest that cast lifespan and associated porosity are of primary importance in the regulation of soil porosity turnover and the ecological functions that are under its control. Our findings suggest that in the field, the low stability of casts is likely to lead to a rapid compaction of the soil after rainfall events. However, high levels of cast production may prevent soil porosity from being broken down. Soil structural porosity thus depends on the balance between the production and degradation of casts. Improvements to the soil structure will occur when the former predominates.