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A microcosm study of the effects of chemical stress, earthworms and microorganisms and their interactions upon litter decomposition



A microcosm study of the effects of chemical stress, earthworms and microorganisms and their interactions upon litter decomposition



European Journal of Soil Biology 32(1): 25-33



The effects of four factors and their interactions on litter decomposition, earthworm (Lumbricus terrestris L.) biomass and on microbial biomass in litter and soil were investigated in a laboratory experiment using microcosms. The factors chosen were soil type, mesh width of litterbags, watering rate and application rate of the fungicide carbendazim. Separate factorial experiments were conducted with "grassland" and "forest" microcosms. The "grassland" microcosms contained soil amended with litter from the same grassland whereas the "forest" microcosms contained soil and litter from a beech forest. Five earthworms were placed in each microcosm and kept at a temperature of 10 degree C for four weeks. The results indicated that the most significant effect was that of a toxic effect of the carbendazim upon the earthworms. This in turn suppressed the selective feeding of the worms on the microbially well-colonized parts of the litter and thereby indirectly affected the decomposition process. Whilst there were no direct effects of the carbendazim upon microbial biomass and respiratory activity in the soil and the litter, there was a clear indirect effect of the chemical upon the microbial quality of the aboveground litter due to its effects on the selective feeding activity of the earthworms. The results of these factorial design experiments demonstrated that complex microcosm test systems are effective tools for the analysis of indirect effects of chemicals on integrative ecosystem level parameters such as the decomposition process.

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