Impact of the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris on the degradation of Fusarium-infected and deoxynivalenol-contaminated wheat straw
When conservation tillage is practised in agriculture, plant residues remain on the soil surface for soil protection purposes. These residues should be widely decomposed within the following vegetation period as microbial plant pathogens surviving on plant litter may endanger the currently cultivated crop. Important soil-borne fungal pathogens that preferably infect small grain cereals belong to the genus Fusarium. These pathogens produce the mycotoxin deoxynivalenol (DON), a cytotoxic agent, in infected cereal organs. This toxin frequently occurs in cereal residues like straw. So far it is unclear if DON degradation is affected by members of the soil food web within decomposing processes in the soil system. For this purpose, a microcosm study was conducted under controlled laboratory conditions to investigate the degradation activity of the earthworm species Lumbricus terrestris when exposed to Fusarium-infected wheat straw being contaminated with DON. Highly Fusarium-infected and DON-contaminated straw seemed to be more attractive to L. terrestris because it was incorporated faster into the soil compared with straw infected and contaminated at low levels. This is supported by a greater body weight gain (exposure time 5 weeks) and smaller body weight loss (exposure time 11 weeks) of L. terrestris, respectively, when highly contaminated straw was offered for different time periods. Furthermore, L. terrestris takes part in the efficient degradation of both Fusarium biomass and DON occurring in straw in close interaction with soil microorganisms. Consequently, earthworm activity contributes to the elimination of potentially infectious plant material from the soil surface.