Plant-facilitated effects of exotic earthworm Pontoscolex corethrurus on the soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics and soil microbial community in a subtropical field ecosystem.
Earthworms and plants greatly affect belowground properties; however, their combined effects are more attractive based on the ecosystem scale in the field condition. To address this point, we manipulated earthworms (exotic endogeic species Pontoscolex corethrurus) and plants (living plants [native tree species Evodia lepta] and artificial plants) to investigate their combined effects on soil microorganisms, soil nutrients, and soil respiration in a subtropical forest. The manipulation of artificial plants aimed to simulate the physical effects of plants (e.g., shading and interception of water) such that the biological effects of plants could be evaluated separately. We found that relative to the controls, living plants but not artificial plants significantly increased the ratio of fungal to bacterial phospholipid fatty acids (PLFAs) and fungal PLFAs. Furthermore, earthworms plus living plants significantly increased the soil respiration and decreased the soil NH4+-N, which indicates that the earthworm effects on the associated carbon, and nitrogen processes were greatly affected by living plants. The permutational multivariate analysis of variance results also indicated that living plants but not earthworms or artificial plants significantly changed the soil microbial community. Our results suggest that the effects of plants on soil microbes and associated soil properties in this study were largely explained by their biological rather than their physical effects.