Earthworms, as ecosystem engineers, strongly regulate microbial activities and microorganism-mediated processes in the soil; their effects differ among species and ecological groups. Lumbricids are suggested to have density-dependent regulation of species populations, but it is not known whether their effects on soil processes are density-dependent. In a field experiment, litter/soil microcosms contained monocultures of five common lumbricid species belonging to epigeic, anecic and endogeic ecological groups, at various density levels. After 6 and 15 weeks, respiration rates of soil systems were measured and (after subtraction of approximately calculated earthworm respiration) microbial respiration rates estimated. In the presence of earthworms, respiration of soil systems tended to increase. After 6 weeks, this increment was explained by earthworm's own respiration. However, after 15 weeks earthworm respiration comprised 12–80% of the respiration increment; hence, microbial respiration was stimulated by earthworm activities. In any earthworm species, total community and microbial respiration were correlated with its density increase. However, specific respiration increments (per unit earthworm biomass) were not significantly affected by lumbricid density. The lack of density-dependent patterns indicates a weak impact of lumbricid intraspecific interactions on soil respiration. However, specific respiration increments and stimulation of microbial respiration varied across earthworm species, being higher for endogeic than for epigeic/anecic species. This is explained by a relatively lower microbial grazing by endogeics and a depletion of litter (a resource and environment for the microbial community) by epigeic/anecic earthworms. Overall, the results support the view that microbial community adapts to the presence of earthworms by switching to a smaller, but a more active one.
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Vol. 64 • No. 4