Earthworms Working Overtime to Sequester Plant-Derived Carbon
Sanchez-de-Leon, Y., Lugo-Perez, J., Wise, D.H., Jastrow, J.D. and Gonzalez-Meler, M.A. 2014. Aggregate formation and carbon sequestration by earthworms in soil from a temperate forest exposed to elevated atmospheric CO2: A microcosm experiment. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 68: 223-230.
As their contribution to the subject, the authors "conducted a 26-day laboratory incubation experiment using plant and soil materials with differential dual isotopic compositions obtained from different CO2 and 15N-labeling treatments at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) FACE [Free-Air CO2 Enrichment] site," where they "used crushed and sieved unlabeled soil to create four treatments: (I) soil only; (II) soil and plant material; (III) soil, plant material and the native, endogeic earthworm Diplocardia sp.; (IV) soil, plant material, and the European, epiendogeic earthworm Lumbricus rubellus," where the added plant materials consisted of both sweetgum (L. styraciflua) leaf and root litter.
In discussing their findings, the five U.S. researchers report (1) "overall, earthworms increased the mass of newly formed soil macro-aggregates," (2) "most of the carbon within macro-aggregates was soil-derived," and (3) "leaf- and root-derived carbon was found only in the treatment with L. rubellus." And so they determined that "the source of carbon within macro-aggregates paralleled earthworm feeding ecologies, with endogeic earthworms feeding mostly on soil organic matter and epi-endogeic earthworms feeding on both plant residues and soil organic matter."
Sanchez-de-Leon et al. conclude by stating "earthworms at the ORNL-FACE site directly contribute to the formation of soil aggregates and could be an important factor contributing to the soil stabilization of increased recent carbon inputs resulting from atmospheric CO2 enrichment," one of the significant consequences of which is to slightly reduce the rate at which the air's CO2 content continues to rise.
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