Department of Plant Pathology and Ecology The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station 123 Huntington Street P.O. Box 1106 New Haven, CT 06504-1106 Voice: (203) 974-8503 Fax: (203) 974-8502 E-mail: Wade.Elmer@ct.gov
Elmer, W. H. 2009. Influence of earthworm activity on soil microbes and soilborne diseases of vegetables. Plant Dis. 93:175-179.
Earthworm densities have been regarded as reliable indicators of soil health, but their role in suppression of plant disease has not received much attention. Several greenhouse studies were done to determine if soils infested with soilborne pathogens and augmented with earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) could reduce disease of susceptible cultivars of asparagus (Asparagus officinalis), eggplant (Solanum melongena), and tomato (Solanum lycopersicum).
Soils planted with asparagus were infested with Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. asparagi and F. proliferatum,eggplant with Verticillium dahliae, and tomato with F. oxysporum f. sp. lycopersici Race 1. In each host–disease system, earthworm activity was associated with an increase in plant growth and a decrease in disease. In general, plant weights were increased 60 to 80% and estimates of disease (area under the disease progress curve, percent vascular discoloration, and percent root lesions) were reduced 50 to 70% when soils were augmented with earthworms.
Soil dilutions on selective media revealed that densities of fluorescent pseudomonads and filamentous actinomycetes were consistently higher for rhizosphere soils augmented with earthworms. In the studies with Verticillium wilt of eggplant, compared to the controls, the densities of total bacteria and Mn-transforming microbes were reduced in the presence of earthworms while population densities of bacilli and Trichoderma spp. were not affected. Disease suppression may have been mediated through microbiological activity. These studies suggest that strategies to increase earthworm densities in soil should suppress soilborne diseases.
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