Influence of land use on soil organic matter status, microbial biomass C and size and composition of earthworm communities in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Dlamini, Thembisile Charity.
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The effect of land management including undisturbed native forest, native grassland, sugarcane (preharvest burnt or green cane harvested), exotic forest (gum, pine or wattle), orchard crops (banana, orange and avocado) and grazed kikuyu grass pastures on soil organic matter status, size of the microbial biomass and size and composition of the earthworm community was studied. The study locality was in the tropical, northern part of KwaZulu-Natal near the town of Eshowe and sites were on a number of sugar estates in the area. Concentrations of soil organic C were notably high under kikuyu pasture, native forest and banana and lowest under burnt cane. Among the land uses, values followed the order: kikuyu pasture ≥ native forest > banana > native grassland = orange ≥ trashed cane = gum ≥ pine ≥ avocado > wattle ≥ burnt cane. Soluble C was considerably higher under kikuyu pasture than other land uses. Soils under native forest and banana also had relatively high values while lowest values were recorded under burnt cane. Values for microbial biomass C showed broadly similar trends with land use to soluble C. Very high values for microbial biomass C (> 2000 mg kg⁻¹ ) and microbial quotient (> 4.5 %) were recorded under kikuyu pasture, native forest, banana and orange whilst lowest values for microbial biomass C ( 250 - 750 mg kg⁻¹ ) and microbial quotient (1- 2 %) were found for soils under avocado, trashed and burnt sugarcane. Earthworm numbers followed the order: kikuyu pasture > native forest > banana > orange > wattle = pine = gum = trashed sugarcane ≥ native grassland ⁻¹ avocado > burnt sugarcane. Values for earthworm numbers and biomass were closely correlated. Earthworm numbers, microbial biomass C and soluble C were closely correlated with each other but none were significantly correlated with soil organic C content. Earthworm numbers were also positively correlated with soil pH and exchangeable Ca content. A total of 11 species of earthworm were collected from the sample sites. Over 80 % of the individuals collected were accidentally-introduced exotic species which originated from India, South America and West Africa. Most land uses supported between 5 and 7 species. Wattle forest and sugarcane, however, had only 2 or 3 species. Juveniles dominated the community under all land uses except kikuyu pasture and avocado where the majority of earthworms were adults. Epigeic species dominated the community under native forest and native grassland and this was also the case under avocado and gum. For the other land uses endogeic species predominated. The most numerous earthworm species present was Pontoscolex coreththrurus which was present under all the land uses. It is a peregrine, endogeic species originating from South America and is thought to have been introduced via India. The most common epigeic species was the Indian species Amynthas rodericensis which made up a particularly notable portion of the community under native and gum forests, avocado and banana. The third most numerous species was A. minimus, also from India, which is a polyhumic, endogeic species. It was particularly numerous under kikuyu pasture. In 8 out of 11 land uses, P. corethrurus, A. rodericensis and A. minimus coexisted together. Another polyhumic, endogeic species, Dichogastersaliens, which originates from West Africa, was present particularly under oranges, wattle and sugarcane. The only land use that contained mainly native species was native grassland where Tritogenia douglasi and Acanthodrilidae sp predominated. It was concluded that organic matter content, microbial biomass C, soluble C and the size and composition of earthworm communities in soils of the study area are greatly affected by land management practice. As is the case in most other parts of the world, the earthworm community under agricultural land management is dominated by accidentally introduced exotic species and these have also emigrated into soils under native vegetation; The role of these species in influencing soil chemical, physical and microbial properties, and thus soil fertility, deserves further studying.