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Effects of earthworms on nitrification and ammonia oxidizers in vermicomposting systems for recycling of fruit and vegetable wastes

Huang, Kui, Xia, Hui, Cui, Guangyu, Li, Fusheng
The Science of the total environment 2017 v.578 pp. 337-345
Crenarchaeota, Nitrosomonas, Nitrosospira, ammonia, bacteria, earthworms, fluorescence, humification, nitrates, nitrification, oxidants, recycling, value-added products, vegetables, vermicomposting, vermicomposts, wastes
Although it is known that earthworms enrich the nitrate content in their final products, the detailed mechanisms behind this are not well understood, and this is important for determining the agricultural value of vermicomposting. Hence, this study aimed to investigate the effects of earthworms on ammonia oxidization and to clarify the functions of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria and archaea (AOB and AOA) during vermicomposting of fruit and vegetable wastes (FVWs). For this, two dry systems using dry FVWs and a fresh system using fresh FVWs were adopted and compared during 60days of vermicomposting. Each system included two treatments, with earthworms and without earthworms. The results revealed that vermicomposting could facilitate the stabilization of FVWs, forming high value-added products. Based on the results of fluorescent excitation-emission matrix analysis, humification indices of the dry and fresh vermicomposts were 4.0 and 4.2, respectively. Moreover, compared to the minus net nitrification rates in groups without worm treatment, the net nitrification rates of 17.5mgN/kg/d and 9.3mgN/g/d, respectively, were found in dry and fresh vermicomposting systems, indicating that earthworms could significantly accelerate the nitrification process. Compost treated with earthworms exhibited elevated numbers of ammonia oxidizers (AOA and AOB) and greater community diversity in final products, compared to the counterparts without earthworms. Final vermicompost products were abundant in the AOB members of Nitrosomonas and Nitrosospira along with AOA groups including Crenarchaeota and Thaumarchaeota. By contrast, AOA were the dominate members completing ammonia oxidization during vermicomposting of dry and fresh FVWs. This study suggests that earthworms facilitate the ammonia oxidization process by promoting both numbers and diversity of AOA and AOB during vermicomposting of FVWs.