Do earthworms increase N2O emissions in ploughed grassland?

Bertora, C.; Vliet, P.C.J. van; Hummelink, E.W.J.; Groenigen, J.W. van


Earthworm activity has been reported to lead to increased production of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O). This is due to emissions from worms themselves, their casts and drilosphere, as well as to general changes in soil structure. However, it remains to be determined how important this effect is on N2O fluxes from agricultural systems under realistic conditions in terms of earthworm density, soil moisture, tillage activity and residue loads. We quantified the effect of earthworm presence on N2O emissions from a pasture after simulated ploughing of the sod (`grassland renovation¿) for different soil moisture contents during a 62-day mesocosm study. Sod (with associated soil) and topsoil were separately collected from a loamy Typic Fluvaquent. Treatments included low (L), medium (M) and high (H) moisture content, in combination with: only soil (S); soil+incorporated sod (SG); soil+incorporated sod+the anecic earthworm Aporrectodea longa (SGE). Nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide (CO2) fluxes were measured for 62 d. At the end of the incubation period, we determined N2O production under water-saturated conditions, potential denitrification and potential mineralization of the soil after removing the earthworms. Cumulative N2O and CO2 fluxes over 62 d from incorporated sod were highest for treatment HSGE (973 ¿g N2O-N and 302 mg CO2-C kg¿1 soil) and lowest for LSG (64 ¿g N2O-N and 188 mg CO2-C kg¿1 soil). Both cumulative fluxes were significantly different for soil moisture (p