Partitioning of habitable pore space in earthworm burrows


  • Josef H. Gorres
  • Jose A. Amador


Ecology, earthworm burrows, habitable pore space, mercury porosimetry


Earthworms affect macro-pore structure of soils. However, some studies suggest that earthworm burrow walls and casts themselves differ greatly in structure from surrounding soils, potentially creating habitat for microbivorours nematodes which accelerate the decomposition and C and N mineralization. In this study aggregates were sampled from the burrow walls of the anecic earthworm Lumbricus terrestris and bulk soil (not altered by earthworms) from mesocosm incubated in the lab for 0, 1, 3, 5 and 16 weeks. Pore volumes and pore sizes were measured in triplicate with Mercury Intrusion Porosimetry (MIP). This method is well suited to establish pore size structure in the context of habitat, because it measures the stepwise intrusion of mercury from the outside of the aggregate into ever smaller pores. The progress of mercury into the aggregate interior thus resembles potential paths of a nematode into accessible habitable pore spaces residing in an aggregate. Total specific pore volume, Vs, varied between 0.13 and 0.18 mL/g and increased from 3 to 16 weeks in both burrow and bulk soil. Differences between total Vs of bulk and burrow samples were not significant on any sampling date. However, differences were significant for pore size fractions at the scale of nematode body diameter.