The effects of earthworms, botanical diversity and fertiliser type on the vertical distribution of soil nutrients and plant nutrient acquisition: A mesocosm study

P.A. Massey, R.E. Creamer, R.P.O. Schulte, M.J. Whelan, K. Ritz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The application of phosphorus (P)-based fertiliser to agricultural soils can result in a skewed vertical distribution of P down the soil profile, since the element tends to accumulate at the soil surface. Such accumulation can have detrimental effects on the environment, as the erosion of surface soil can facilitate the transfer of large quantities of P out of the field into water bodies. Earthworm and plant communities are intricately linked to vertical nutrient distributions in soil, with both communities either facilitating or negating the incorporation of nutrients into the soil matrix. This study aimed to investigate the effect of earthworm presence, plant community structure and fertiliser type to affect the distribution of nutrients in experimental mesocosms; with particular emphasis on the vertical distribution of P. Mesocosms were designed to simulate a soil which has a high P concentration at the surface compared to further down the soil profile. It was hypothesised that the presence of earthworms would facilitate the incorporation of P into the soil matrix and the presence of a more botanically diversity community would assimilate a greater quantity of soil nutrients. After 1 year, mesocosms were deconstructed into five depth ranges, and the distribution of nutrients were modelled and analysed. Results indicated that the presence of earthworms did redistribute soil nutrients from the surface into the matrix beneath. This redistribution was apparent from a reduction in nutrient concentrations in the 0-1 cm depth range. The presence of a more botanically diverse community not only assimilated greater soil nutrient concentrations, but also promoted a less even vertical distribution of soil nutrients, demonstrating the importance of soil biota and plant diversity in the redistribution of soil nutrients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1189-1201
Number of pages13
JournalBiology and Fertility of Soils
Volume49
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2013
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Botanical diversity
  • Earthworms
  • Mesocosm
  • Nutrient distribution
  • Phosphorus distribution

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