Earthworms contribute, directly and indirectly, to contaminant biodegradation. However, most of bioremediation studies using these annelids focus on pollutant dissipation, thus disregarding the health status of the organism implied in bioremediation as well as the recovery of indicators of soil quality. A microcosm study was performed using Lumbricus terrestris to determine whether earthworm density (2 or 4 individuals/kg wet soil) and the time of exposure (1, 2, 6, 12, and 18 wk) could affect chlorpyrifos persistence in soil initially treated with 20 mg active ingredient kg− 1wet soil. Additionally, selected earthworm biomarkers and soil enzyme activities were measured as indicators of earthworm health and soil quality, respectively. After an 18-wk incubation period, no earthworm was killed by the pesticide, but clear signs of severe intoxication were detected, i.e., 90% inhibition in muscle acetylcholinesterase and carboxylesterase (CbE) activities. Unexpectedly, the earthworm density had no significant impact on chlorpyrifos dissipation rate, for which the measured half-life ranged between 30.3 d (control soils) and 44.5 d (low earthworm density) or 36.7 d (high earthworm density). The dynamic response of several soil enzymes to chlorpyrifos exposure was examined calculating the geometric mean and the treated-soil quality index, which are common enzyme-based indexes of microbial functional diversity. Both indexes showed a significant and linear increase of the global enzyme response after 6 wk of chlorpyrifos treatment in the presence of earthworms. Examination of individual enzymes revealed that soil CbE activity could decrease chlorpyrifos-oxon impact upon the rest of enzyme activities. Although L. terrestris was found not to accelerate chlorpyrifos dissipation, a significant increase in the activity of soil enzyme activities was achieved compared with earthworm-free, chlorpyrifos-treated soils. Therefore, the inoculation of organophosphorus-contaminated soils with L. terrestris arises as a complementary bioremediation strategy in terms of recovery of soil biochemical performance and quality.
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