BACKGROUND: Biodiversity loss and species invasions are among the most important human-induced global changes. Moreover, these two processes are interlinked as ecosystem invasibility is considered to increase with decreasing biodiversity. In temperate grasslands, earthworms serve as important ecosystem engineers making up the majority of soil faunal biomass. Herbivore behaviour has been shown to be affected by earthworms, however it is unclear whether these effects differ with the composition of plant communities. To test this we conducted a mesocosm experiment where we added earthworms (Annelida: Lumbricidae) to planted grassland communities with different plant species composition (3 vs. 12 plant spp.). Plant communities had equal plant densities and ratios of the functional groups grasses, non-leguminous forbs and legumes. Later, Arion vulgaris slugs (formerly known as A. lusitanicus; Gastropoda: Arionidae) were added and allowed to freely choose among the available plant species. This slug species is listed among the 100 worst alien species in Europe. We hypothesized that (i) the food choice of slugs would be altered by earthworms' specific effects on the growth and nutrient content of plant species, (ii) slug herbivory will be less affected by earthworms in plant communities containing more plant species than in those with fewer plant species because of a more readily utilization of plant resources making the impacts of earthworms less pronounced. RESULTS: Slug herbivory was significantly affected by both earthworms and plant species composition. Slugs damaged 60% less leaves when earthworms were present, regardless of the species composition of the plant communities. Percent leaf area consumed by slugs was 40% lower in communities containing 12 plant species; in communities containing only three species earthworms increased slug leaf area consumption. Grasses were generally avoided by slugs. Leaf length and number of tillers was increased in mesocosms containing more plant species but little influenced by earthworms. Overall shoot biomass was decreased, root biomass increased in plant communities with more plant species. Earthworms decreased total shoot biomass in mesocosms with more plant species but did not affect biomass production of individual functional groups. Plant nitrogen concentrations across three focus species were 18% higher when earthworms were present; composition of plant communities did not affect plant quality. CONCLUSIONS: Given the important role that both herbivores and earthworms play in structuring plant communities the implications of belowground-aboveground linkages should more broadly be considered when investigating global change effects on ecosystems.
Despite recent advances in understanding mechanism of toxicity, the development of biomarkers (biochemicals that vary significantly with exposure to chemicals) for pesticides and environmental contaminants exposure is still a challenging task. Carbofuran is one of the most commonly used pesticides in agriculture and said to be most toxic carbamate pesticide. It is necessary to identify the biochemicals that can vary significantly after carbofuran exposure on earthworms which will help to assess the soil ecotoxicity. Initially, we have optimized the extraction conditions which are suitable for high-throughput gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) based metabolomics for the tissue of earthworm, Metaphire posthuma. Upon evaluation of five different extraction solvent systems, 80% methanol was found to have good extraction efficiency based on the yields of metabolites, multivariate analysis, total number of peaks and reproducibility of metabolites. Later the toxicity evaluation was performed to characterize the tissue specific metabolomic perturbation of earthworm, Metaphire posthuma after exposure to carbofuran at three different concentration levels (0.15, 0.3 and 0.6 mg/kg of soil). Seventeen metabolites, contributing to the best classification performance of highest dose dependent carbofuran exposed earthworms from healthy controls were identified. This study suggests that GC-MS based metabolomic approach was precise and sensitive to measure the earthworm responses to carbofuran exposure in soil, and can be used as a promising tool for environmental eco-toxicological studies.
A new Italian earthworm morphologically close to the similarly large and anecic Eophila tellinii (Rosa, 1888) is described. Distribution of Eophila crodabepis sp. nov. extends over 750 km2 from East to West on the Asiago Plateau and Vittorio Veneto Hills, from North to South on mounts Belluno Prealps (Praderadego and Cesen), Asiago, Grappa and onto the Montello foothills. This range abuts that of Eophila tellinii in northern Friuli Venezia Giulia region. Known localities of both E. tellinii and E.crodabepis sp. nov. are mapped. mtDNA barcoding definitively separates the new western species from classical Eophila tellinii (Rosa, 1888).
Herbicide use is increasing worldwide both in agriculture and private gardens. However, our knowledge of potential side-effects on non-target soil organisms, even on such eminent ones as earthworms, is still very scarce. In a greenhouse experiment, we assessed the impact of the most widely used glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup on two earthworm species with different feeding strategies. We demonstrate, that the surface casting activity of vertically burrowing earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) almost ceased three weeks after herbicide application, while the activity of soil dwelling earthworms (Aporrectodea caliginosa) was not affected. Reproduction of the soil dwellers was reduced by 56% within three months after herbicide application. Herbicide application led to increased soil concentrations of nitrate by 1592% and phosphate by 127%, pointing to potential risks for nutrient leaching into streams, lakes, or groundwater aquifers. These sizeable herbicide-induced impacts on agroecosystems are particularly worrisome because these herbicides have been globally used for decades.
The formation, functioning and emergent properties of patterned landscapes have recently drawn increased attention, notably in semi-arid ecosystems. We describe and analyze a set of similarly spectacular landforms in seasonal tropical wetlands. Surales landscapes, comprised of densely packed, regularly spaced mounds, cover large areas of the Orinoco Llanos. Although descriptions of surales date back to the 1940’s, their ecology is virtually unknown. From data on soil physical and chemical properties, soil macrofauna, vegetation and aerial imagery, we provide evidence of the spatial extent of surales and how they form and develop. Mounds are largely comprised of earthworm casts. Recognizable, recently produced casts account for up to one-half of total soil mass. Locally, mounds are relatively constant in size, but vary greatly across sites in diameter (0.5-5 m) and height (from 0.3 m to over 2 m). This variation appears to reflect a chronosequence of surales formation and growth. Mound shape (round to labyrinth) varies across elevational gradients. Mounds are initiated when large earthworms feed in shallowly flooded soils, depositing casts that form ‘towers’ above water level. Using permanent galleries, each earthworm returns repeatedly to the same spot to deposit casts and to respire. Over time, the tower becomes a mound. Because each earthworm has a restricted foraging radius, there is net movement of soil to the mound from the surrounding area. As the mound grows, its basin thus becomes deeper, making initiation of a new mound nearby more difficult. When mounds already initiated are situated close together, the basin between them is filled and mounds coalesce to form larger composite mounds. Over time, this process produces mounds up to 5 m in diameter and 2 m tall. Our results suggest that one earthworm species drives self-organizing processes that produce keystone structures determining ecosystem functioning and development.
Ecological niche theory asserts that invading species become established only if introduced propagules survive stochastic mortality and can exploit resources unconsumed by resident species. Because their transportation is not controlled by plant health or biosecurity regulations, soil macrofauna decomposers, including earthworms are probably introduced frequently into non-native soils. Yet even with climatic change, exotic earthworm species from southern Europe have not been reported to become established in previously glaciated areas of northern Europe that already have trophically differentiated earthworm communities of ‘peregrine’ species. We discovered established populations of the earthworm Prosellodrilus amplisetosus (Lumbricidae), a member of a genus endemic to southern France, in six habitats of an urban farm in Dublin, Ireland, about 1000 km north of the genus’s endemic range. Not only was P. amplisetosus the dominant endogeic (geophagous) earthworm species in two habitats, it also occupied a significantly different trophic position from the resident species, as evinced by stable isotope ratio analysis. The suggested ability of this non-native species to feed on and assimilate isotopically more enriched soil carbon © and nitrogen fractions that are inaccessible to resident species portends potential implications of decomposer range expansions for soil functioning including C sequestration.
The synthesis of designer solid-state materials by living organisms is an emerging field in bio-nanotechnology. Key examples include the use of engineered viruses as templates for cobalt oxide (Co(3)O(4)) particles, superparamagnetic cobalt-platinum alloy nanowires and gold-cobalt oxide nanowires for photovoltaic and battery-related applications. Here, we show that the earthworm’s metal detoxification pathway can be exploited to produce luminescent, water-soluble semiconductor cadmium telluride (CdTe) quantum dots that emit in the green region of the visible spectrum when excited in the ultraviolet region. Standard wild-type Lumbricus rubellus earthworms were exposed to soil spiked with CdCl(2) and Na(2)TeO(3) salts for 11 days. Luminescent quantum dots were isolated from chloragogenous tissues surrounding the gut of the worm, and were successfully used in live-cell imaging. The addition of polyethylene glycol on the surface of the quantum dots allowed for non-targeted, fluid-phase uptake by macrophage cells.
The present study revealed the effects of fly ash (FA) and phosphoric rock (PR) on stabilization of sewage sludge (SS) after vermicomposting for 60 days. The earthworms in all vermibeds showed significant increases in tissue metal; however, the bioconcentration factors (BCFs) of all investigated metals (except Zn) differed among treatments. Additionally, significant differences were observed in the final system weight and SS+Passivant weight reduction among treatments, but not in the percentage reduction of total system weight and organic matter (OM). pH decreased from the initial levels, eventually reaching neutrality. Significantly greater earthworm heavy metals content, growth and reproduction rates and BCFs were observed, while a decreased percentage of total heavy metals concentration and a proportional decrease of extractable metals (except Cu and Zn) were observed in treatments mixed with FA and PR. Furthermore, significant linear correlations between BCFs and a reduction in percentage concentration of total metals (Cu, Pb, Cd and As) were shown, as well as BCF-Cu and relative proportional changes in extractable Cu. These results indicate that vermicomposting with proportions of FA and PR is better for stabilization and remediation of SS in a short period of time.
Remediation soil is exposed to various environmental factors over time that can affect the final success of the operation. In the present study, we assessed Pb bioaccessibility and microbial activity in industrially polluted soil (Arnoldstein, Austria) stabilized with 5% (w/w) of Slovakite and 5% (w/w) of apatite soil after exposure to two earthworm species, Lumbricus terrestris and Dendrobaena veneta, used as model environmental biotic soil factors. Stabilization resulted in reduced Pb bioaccessibility, as assessed with one-step extraction tests and six-step sequential extraction, and improved soil functioning, mirrored in reduced β-glucosidase activity in soil. Both earthworm species increased Pb bioaccessibility, thus decreasing the initial stabilization efficacy and indicating the importance of considering the long-term fate of remediated soil. The earthworm species had different effects on soil enzyme activity, which can be attributed to species-specific microbial populations in earthworm gut acting on the ingested soil.
Despite great general benefits derived from plastic use, accumulation of plastic material in ecosystems, and especially microplastic, is becoming an increasing environmental concern. Microplastic has been extensively studied in aquatic environments, with very few studies focusing on soils. We here tested the idea that microplastic particles (polyethylene beads) could be transported from the soil surface down the soil profile via earthworms. We used Lumbricus terrestris L., an anecic earthworm species, in a factorial greenhouse experiment with four different microplastic sizes. Presence of earthworms greatly increased the presence of microplastic particles at depth (we examined 3 soil layers, each 3.5 cm deep), with smaller PE microbeads having been transported downward to a greater extent. Our study clearly shows that earthworms can be significant transport agents of microplastics in soils, incorporating this material into soil, likely via casts, burrows (affecting soil hydraulics), egestion and adherence to the earthworm exterior. This movement has potential consequences for exposure of other soil biota to microplastics, for the residence times of microplastic at greater depth, and for the possible eventual arrival of microplastics in the groundwater.