`Do earthworms increase grass biomass production and phosphorus uptake under field conditions?

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The key nutrient phosphorus (P) binds strongly to reactive soil particles, which makes it poorly available for plant uptake. In the search for sustainable ways to overcome a resulting P shortage, it has been shown that earthworms can increase the pool of plant available P and enhance plant P uptake under controlled (greenhouse) conditions. To validate these findings under field conditions and to study the effect of earthworm community composition, we conducted a mesocosm-field experiment on grassland. Mesocosms containing a sandy soil with a low P-status and communities of five earthworm species common to the Netherlands (Lumbricus rubellus, Aporrectodea caliginosa, Allolobophora chlorotica, Lumbricus terrestris and Aporrectodea longa; monocultures, three- or five-species mixtures and controls without earthworms) were installed in a field. Aboveground biomass production and P uptake of Lolium perenne were monitored for over two years. Earthworm community composition varied between the start and the end of the experiment, but multiple linear regression on the final earthworm communities yielded strong indications that earthworms increased both biomass production (R2adj = 0.52, p < 0.001, n = 76) and P uptake (R2adj = 0.48, p < 0.001, n = 76). The species A. longa and L. terrestris were most influential for this earthworm effect. We did not observe any general relations between the number of earthworm species in a community and a P effect. Our results suggest that earthworms can indeed increase grass biomass production and P uptake on a low P soil in the field, and can thereby contribute to making the P nutrition of our agricultural systems more sustainable.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104598
JournalApplied Soil Ecology
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Earthworm community
  • Grassland
  • Lumbricidae
  • Mesocosm field study
  • Phosphorus


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