Trade-offs between N2O emission and C-sequestration in the soil: the role of earthworms

L. Nebert, I.M. Lubbers, G. Giannopoulos, L. Brussaard, J. Bloem, J.W. van Groenigen

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


The rapidly rising concentrations of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has spurred the interest in soils as a potential carbon (C) sink. However, there are many reports indicating that C- sequestration is often negated by elevated emissions of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O). It is not yet clear what the driving factors behind this trade-off are, nor how it can be avoided. We suggest that earthworm activity may be partly responsible for the trade-off. Earthworm activity is increasingly recognized as being beneficial to C-sequestration through stabilization of SOM. We report experimental results suggesting that they can also lead to strongly elevated N2O-emissions. In a first experiment, dried grass residue (Lolium perenne) was applied at the top of a loamy soil or mixed through the soil, and N2O-emission was followed for three months. Treatments included presence of the epigeic earthworm Lumbricus rubellus and the anecic earthworm Aporrectodea longa. Cumulative N2O-emissions increased significantly for both species. The strongest effect was measured for L. rubellus, where N2O-emissions significantly increased from 55.7 to 789.1 micro g N2O-N kg- 1 soil. This effect was only observed when residue was applied on top of the soil. In a second experiment we determined the effect of epigeic (L. rubellus) and endogeic (Aporrectodea caliginosa) earthworms on N2O-emissions for two different soil types (loam and sand) in the presence of 15N-labeled radish residue (Raphanus sativus subsp. oleiferus). Both species showed significant increases in N2O-emissions, which differed with residue application method and soil type. N2O- emissions were generally larger in loamy soils and the strongest effect was measured for A. caliginosa when residue was mixed into the soil, increasing emissions from 1350.1 to 2223.2 micro g N2O-N kg- 1 soil. L. rubellus only resulted in elevated N2O-emissions when residue was applied on top. These studies make it clear that elevated N2O-emissions due to earthworm activity is a widespread phenomenon, and that the nature of earthworm-induced effect is largely controlled by its feeding habit and interactions with other species. Our results contribute to understanding the important but intricate relations between (functional) biodiversity and the soil greenhouse gas balance
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2009
EventWorkshop Soil Organic Matters, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, UK -
Duration: 23 Jun 200925 Jun 2009


WorkshopWorkshop Soil Organic Matters, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, UK


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