Earthworms modulate the effects of climate warming on the taxon richness of soil meso- and macrofauna in an agricultural system

Elsevier, Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, Volume 278, 1 June 2019
Siebert J., Eisenhauer N., Poll C., Marhan S., Bonkowski M., Hines J. et al.
Anthropogenic climate change is altering the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems. Agricultural systems are particularly vulnerable to climate change as they are frequently disturbed by intensified management practices. This also threatens belowground organisms that are responsible for providing crucial ecosystem functions and services, such as nutrient cycling and plant disease suppression. Amongst these organisms, earthworms are of particular importance as they can modulate the effects of climate change on soil organisms by modifying the biotic and abiotic soil conditions. However, they are also known to decline under intensified management, justifying their use as key biotic indicators of intensified agriculture. Yet, our knowledge of the responses of belowground species to the interacting effects of warming and land-use intensification (simulated by earthworm reduction in the experimental setup) remains limited. Here, we tested the interactive effects of soil warming and reduced earthworm densities on soil protists, nematodes, meso- and macrofauna, and their diversity in a common barley system in the Hohenheim Climate Change Experiment. We found that belowground species richness was lowest at elevated temperature and reduced earthworm densities, indicating that earthworms can buffer warming effects on belowground biodiversity. Furthermore, warming increased the densities of plant-feeding nematodes, and herbivorous macrofauna benefitted from reduced earthworm densities. Our results indicate that warming and reduced earthworm densities may simultaneously modify the functioning and service provisioning of soils via shifts in diversity and density of soil biota that would likely lead to simplified belowground food webs. These findings thus highlight the importance of maintaining greater densities of ecosystem engineers like earthworms that may help buffering the detrimental effects of climate warming in agricultural systems.