, Volume 137, Issue 1, pp 90–96 | Cite as

Effects of earthworms and organic litter distribution on plant performance and aphid reproduction

  • Susanne WurstEmail author
  • Reinhard Langel
  • August Reineking
  • Michael Bonkowski
  • Stefan Scheu
Plant Animal Interactions


Human management practices and large detritivores such as earthworms incorporate plant litter into the soil, thereby forming a heterogeneous soil environment from which plant roots extract nutrients. In a greenhouse experiment we investigated effects of earthworms and spatial distribution of 15N-labelled grass litter on plants of different functional groups [Lolium perenne (grass), Plantago lanceolata (forb), Trifolium repens (legume)]. Earthworms enhanced shoot and root growth in L. perenne and P. lanceolata and N uptake from organic litter and soil in all plant species. Litter concentrated in a patch (compared with litter mixed homogeneously into the soil) increased shoot biomass and 15N uptake from the litter in L. perenne and enhanced root proliferation in P. lanceolata when earthworms were present. Growth of clover (T. repens) was rather independent of the presence of earthworms and organic litter distribution: nevertheless, clover took up more nitrogen in the presence of earthworms and exploited more 15N from the added litter than the other plant species. The magnitude of the effects of earthworms and organic litter distribution differed between the plant species, indicating different responses of plants with contrasting root morphology. Aphid (Myzus persicae) reproduction was reduced on P. lanceolata in the presence of earthworms. We suggest that earthworm activity may indirectly alter plant chemistry and hence defence mechanisms against herbivores.


Multitrophic interactions Nitrogen uptake Plant foraging Soil macrofauna Herbivores 



We thank the Animal Ecology group (TU Darmstadt) for their help. This study was supported in part by a grant to S. Wurst from the "Hessisches Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kunst/Hochschul- und Wissenschaftsprogramm (HWP)".


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susanne Wurst
    • 1
    Email author
  • Reinhard Langel
    • 2
  • August Reineking
    • 2
  • Michael Bonkowski
    • 1
  • Stefan Scheu
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut für ZoologieTechnische Universität Darmstadt DarmstadtGermany
  2. 2.Kompetenzzentrum Stabile Isotope, Forschungszentrum WaldökosystemeGeorg-August Universität Göttingen GöttingenGermany

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