Earthworms, Collembola and residue management change wheat (Triticum aestivum) and herbivore pest performance (Aphidina: Rhophalosiphum padi)

Xin Ke, Stefan Scheu
Oecologia 2008, 157 (4): 603-17
Management practices of arable systems determine the distribution of soil organic matter thereby changing decomposer animal activity and their impact on nutrient mineralization, plant growth and plant-herbivore interactions. Decomposer-mediated changes in plant growth and insect pest performance were investigated in wheat-aphid model systems in the greenhouse. Three types of litter distribution were established: litter patch at the soil surface (simulating mulching), litter patch deeper in soil (simulating ploughing) and litter homogeneously mixed into soil (simulating disk cultivation). The litter was labelled with (15)N to follow the mineralization and uptake of nutrients by the plants. Earthworms (Aporrectodea caliginosa) and Collembola (Protaphorura armata) were included as representatives of major functional groups of decomposers. Wheat (Triticum aestivum) was planted and aphids (Rhophalosiphum padi) were introduced to leaves as one of the most important pests. Earthworms, Collembola and litter distribution affected plant growth, N acquisition and aphid development in an interactive way. Earthworms and Collembola increased biomass of seeds, shoots and roots of wheat. Increased plant growth by earthworms and Collembola was mainly due to increased transfer of N from soil (rather than litter) into plants. Despite increasing plant growth, earthworms reduced aphid reproduction. Aphid reproduction was not correlated closely with plant N concentrations, but rather with the concentration of litter N in wheat. Unexpectedly, both Collembola and earthworms predominantly affected the mobilization of N from soil organic matter, and by altering the distribution of litter earthworms reduced infestation of crops by aphids via reducing plant capture of litter N, in particular if the litter was concentrated deeper in soil. The results suggest that management practices stimulating a continuous moderate increase in nutrient mobilization from soil organic matter rather than nutrient flushes from decomposing fresh organic matter result in maximum plant growth with minimum plant pest infestation.

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