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The effect of earthworms (Lumbricidae) on nitrogenase activity in soil


Nitrogenase activity associated with earthworms, their faeces and activity in soil was measured by the acetylene reduction technique. A clear increase in nitrogenase activity was found in field-deposited casts of Aporrectodea caliginosa in comparison with surrounding soil, although potential nitrogenase activity was significantly higher in soil than in casts. Nitrogenase activity associated directly with earthworms (Lumbricus rubellus ) was detected, indicating the presence of active N2-fixing bacteria on the body surface and/or in the gut. Laboratory experiments showed that nitrogenase activity in the casts of L. rubellus was higher than in unmodified soil, and that nitrogenase activity in soil was significantly increased by the burrowing and feeding activity of these worms. This paper discusses the possible causes of these earthworm effects on soil nitrogenase activity and some methodological problems of determining the nitrogenase activity.

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Correspondence to M. Šimek.

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Šimek, M., Pill, V. The effect of earthworms (Lumbricidae) on nitrogenase activity in soil. Biol Fert Soils 7, 370–373 (1989).

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Key words

  • Nitrogenase activity
  • Earthworm casts
  • Soil
  • Aporrectodea caliginosa
  • Lumbricus rubellus
  • Acetylene reduction assay