Author(s): Manna MC, Jha S, Ghosh PK, Acharya CL
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Abstract An experiment was conducted during 1998-1999, in a deciduous forest located in the semi-arid tropics of central India, to evaluate the suitability of different forest litters as food material for the tropical epigeic earthworms i.e. Eisenia fetida (Savigny), Perionyx excavatus (Perrier) and Dicogaster bolaui (michaelsen). The aim was to examine the influence of these earthworms on the decomposition processes of three types of forest litters i.e. Tectona grandis (teak), Madhuca indica (mahua) and Butea monosperma (palas), on the maintenance of quality in a vermicomposting system, and to assess the effect of applications of in situ prepared vermicomposts on the growth of forest trees. The results indicated that T. grandis litter was the most suitable food material for the earthworms possibly because it contained high reserves of mineral nutrients. Comparisons of the survival and reproduction rates of the three epigeic earthworm species indicated that a higher reproduction rate was maintained for E. fetida compared to P. excavatus and D. bolaui in the decomposition of these forest litters. The rates of growth and population increases of E. fetida approximately doubled after 12 weeks of litter decomposition. The litter decomposition process was associated strongly with the quality of the materials and their chemical composition. Irrespective of earthworm inoculations, the levels of available nutrient such as NH(4)-N, NO(3)-N, available P and K increased significantly (pM. indica litter compost>B. monosperma litter compost. The mature decomposed litter had lower C/N ratios (11.3-24.8:1), water-soluble carbon (0.30-0.58\%), water-soluble carbohydrates (0.35-0.71\%) and larger cation exchange capacity/total organic carbon ratios than the values in the parent forest litter. The lignin content increased with maturation with a concomitant decrease in cellulose resulting in higher lignin/cellulose ratios. Application of all three vermicomposts to forest trees significantly improved their heights and diameters over those of control trees, although the increases were lower than those resulting from the chemical fertilizer applications. However, soil biological activities i.e. soil respiration, soil microbial biomass carbon and dehydrogenase activity were greater by application of vermicomposts over that after application of inorganic fertilizer in a new plantation of T. grandis.
This article was published in Bioresour Technol
and referenced in Journal of Agricultural Science and Food Research