Effects of Earthworm (Eisenia fetida) and Wheat (Triticum aestivum) Straw Additions on Selected Properties of Petroleum-Contaminated Soils
Current bioremediation techniques for petroleum-contaminated soils are designed to remove contaminants as quickly and efficiently as possible, but not necessarily with postremediation soil biological quality as a primary objective. To test a simple postbioremediation technique, we added earthworms (Eisenia fetida) or wheat (Triticum aestivum) straw to petroleum land-farm soil and measured biological quality of the soil as responses in plant growth, soil respiration, and oil and grease (O&G) and total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH) concentrations. Results indicated that plant growth was greater in earthworm-treated land-farm soil. Furthermore, addition of wheat straw resulted in greater total respiration in all soils tested (land-farm soil, noncontaminated reference soil, and a 1:1 mixture of land-farm and reference soils). We observed a 30% increase in soil respiration in straw-amended oily soil, whereas respiration increased by 246% in straw-amended reference soil. Much of the difference between oily and reference soils was attributable to higher basal respiration rates of nonamended oily soil compared to nonamended reference soil. Addition of earthworms resulted in greater total respiration of all soil and straw treatments except two (the land-farm and the 1:1 mixture soil treatments without straw). Straw and earthworm treatments did not affect O&G or TPH concentrations. Nevertheless, our findings that earthworm additions improved plant growth and that straw additions enhanced microbial activity in land-farm soil suggest that these treatments may be compatible with plant-based remediation techniques currently under evaluation in field trials, and could reduce the time required to restore soil ecosystem function.