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Influence of earthworms on apolar lipid features in soils after 1 year of incubation


Molecular and compound specific isotope compositions of apolar lipids were characterized in soil mesocosms incubated for 1 year with or without 13C-labelled plant residues and earthworms, in order to investigate, at the molecular scale, the effect of earthworms on the fate of organic matter (OM) in soils. Molecular and isotope composition of long chain alkanes in casts confirmed that earthworms preferentially ingest soil fractions rich in plant debris. Apolar lipid specific isotope composition allowed calculation of the proportion of carbon derived from the labelled residues (Clab). Casts displayed higher Clab values than surrounding soil while soil without earthworm exhibited intermediate Clab. The odd-over-even predominance (OEP) of alkanes suggested they are probably less degraded in casts than in the surrounding soil. Taken together, OEP and Clab values suggested that besides high incorporation of plant residues, earthworms may also favor the preservation of plant apolar lipids in their casts. Additionally, chain length and isotope pattern of alkanes further suggested root lipids were probably less degraded than shoot lipids. High 13C-incorporation level for the bacterial biomarker hopene provided evidence for intense recycling of plant OM and suggested further contribution of bacterial necromass to soil OM.

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The study was funded by an EC2CO (CNRS-INSU) grant that was greatly appreciated. We are grateful to Patrick Dumont of Sorbonne Université greenhouse facilities for access to the experimental chamber and technical support. Elise Canolle and Anne-Sophie Permal are thanked for their help in preparing the lipids during their internship at METIS. We are indebted to Christelle Anquetil and Véronique Vaury for GC–MS and EA-IRMS analyses, respectively. CSIA were obtained from the ALYSES facility (IRD-SU) that was supported by grants from Région Ile-de-France. Thanks are also due to the two anonymous referees who provided constructive reviews of the manuscript.

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Nguyen Tu, T., Vidal, A., Quénéa, K. et al. Influence of earthworms on apolar lipid features in soils after 1 year of incubation. Biogeochemistry 147, 243–258 (2020).

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  • Earthworms
  • Organic matter
  • Lipids
  • 13C-labelling
  • Soil
  • Cast