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ISME J. 2010 Mar;4(3):357-66. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2009.124. Epub 2009 Nov 19.

Gut wall bacteria of earthworms: a natural selection process.

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  • 1UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science, Science Education and Research Centre (West), University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.


Earthworms and microorganisms are interdependent and their interactions regulate the biogeochemistry of terrestrial soils. Investigating earthworm-microorganism interactions, we tested the hypothesis that differences in burrowing and feeding habits of anecic and endogeic earthworms are reflected by the existence of ecological group-specific gut wall bacterial communities. Bacterial community was detected using automated ribosomal intergenic spacer analysis of 16S and 23S genes and ribotype data was used to assess diversity and community composition. Using soil and earthworm samples collected from adjacent wheat-barley and grass-clover fields, we found that the anecic Lumbricus terrestris and L. friendi, the endogeic Aporrectodea caliginosa and A. longa (classically defined as anecic, but now known to possess endogeic characteristics) contain ecological group-specific gut wall-associated bacterial communities. The abundance of specific gut wall-associated bacteria (identified by sequence analysis of ribotype bands), including Proteobacteria, Firmicutes and an actinobacterium, was ecological group dependent. A microcosm study, conducted using A. caliginosa and L. terrestris and five different feeding regimes, indicated that food resource can cause shifts in gut wall-associated bacterial community, but the magnitude of these shifts did not obscure the delineation between ecological group specificity. Using A. caliginosa and A. longa samples collected in six different arable fields, we deduced that, within an ecological group, habitat was a more important determinant of gut wall-associated bacterial community composition than was host species. Hence, we conclude that the selection of bacteria associated with the gut wall of earthworms is a natural selection process and the strongest determinant of this process is in the order ecological group>habitat>species.

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