Earthworms and rate of breakdown of soybean and maize residues in soil

  • Mackay A
  • Kladivko E
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A field survey was conducted to determine the numbers and biomass of earthworms in soils receiving different tillage and cropping treatments, and to investigate in a greenhouse study the effect of earthworms on the rate of breakdown of soybean (Glycine max) and maize (Zea mays L.) residues. The numbers and biomass of earthworms under continuous soybeans were greater than those present under maize, possibly due to the adverse effects of insecticide and anhydrous ammonia fertilizer used with maize. No-tillage doubled the population of earthworms under soybeans, when compared with ploughing. Numbers (141 m-2) and biomass (26.5 g m-2) of earthworms under no-till soybeans were still much lower than the numbers (1298 m-2) and biomass (224.5 g m-2) under pasture receiving heavy applications of animal manure. Using 16-1 pots in the greenhouse, the effect of 0, 15 (250m-2) and 30 (500m-2) earthworms (Lumbricus rubellus) pot-1on the rate of breakdown during 54 days of 50 g of soybean or maize residues in the Raub silt loam (Aquic Argiudoll) was studied. At 36 days, 60% of the soybean residues were recovered from pots to which no earthworms had been added, whereas in the presence of earthworms, only 34% of the soybean residues remained. In the absence of earthworms, 85% of the maize residues were recovered at 36 days, compared with only 52% in the presence of earthworms. At 36 days, 48% of the original maize residues added were still > 2 mm in length in the absence of earthworms, whereas only 26% were > 2 mm in length in the presence of earthworms. Earthworms also increased the aggregate stability of the Raub soil, when determined on moist (19-22% w/w) samples, but had no effect on soil water retention at -33 and -1500 kPa. The possible implications of greater earthworm activity on increasing residue incorporation and breakdown and subsequent effects on soil temperatures under no-till maize production are also discussed. © 1985.

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  • Alec D. Mackay

  • Eileen J. Kladivko

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