Microbiological characterization of the structures built by earthworms and ants in an agricultural field

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The genesis and architecture of the structures built by ants and earthworms differ markedly, suggesting that-in addition to having different physical and chemical properties-the resident microbial community should also have unique properties. We characterized the inorganic N, biomass C, C mineralization rate, and functional diversity of the microbial communities of earthworm casts, earthworm burrow soil, ant mounds, and bulk soil from an agricultural field. Mound soil was most enriched in inorganic N and had the lowest pH, moisture content, and C mineralization rate. Functional diversity was evaluated by determining the ability of microorganisms to grow on 31 substrates using Biolog®EcoPlates in combination with a most probable number (MPN) approach. Casts had MPNs that were one to two orders of magnitude higher than burrow, mound and bulk soil for most substrates. Casts also had the highest MPNs for particular substrate guilds relative to bulk soil, followed by mound and burrow soil. Indices of substrate diversity and evenness were highest for casts, followed by burrow, mound, and bulk soil. Differences in the type of habitat provided by the structures built by ants and earthworms result in the differential distribution of nutrients, microbial activity, and metabolic diversity of soils within an agricultural field that affect soil fertility and quality. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Soil Biology and Biochemistry