Veterinary antibiotics can reduce crop yields by modifying soil bacterial community and earthworm population in agro-ecosystems

Fangkai Zhao, Lei Yang, Gang Li, Li Fang, Xinwei Yu, Yu Ting Tang, Min Li, Liding Chen

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Veterinary antibiotics are intensively and widely used in animal farming to treat or prevent diseases, as well as improve growth rate and feed efficiency. Animal manure is an important reservoir of veterinary antibiotics due to their high excretion rates, and thus manure application has been a critical source of veterinary antibiotics in agro-ecosystems. However, how veterinary antibiotics affect agroecosystem functions is still unclearly understood. In this study, we evaluated the effects of veterinary antibiotics on soil bacteria and earthworms in agricultural land with long-term manure application. The potential mechanisms of antibiotic-induced changes in crop yields were also revealed. The results showed that the increasing prevalence of veterinary antibiotics in agro-ecosystems inhibited earthworm abundance and bacterial diversity, and then decreased the bioavailability of soil nutrients. Furthermore, high-dose exposure to veterinary antibiotics improved the abundance of plant pathogenic bacteria. Analysis indicated that veterinary antibiotics played an important underlying role in driving the negative effects on peanut grain yields via disturbing microbe- and earthworm-mediated soil available nutrient contents. The direct toxicity effects of antibiotics on peanut relative yields were stronger than their indirect mediating effects. Additionally, the tradeoffs between antibiotics and agroecosystem functions increased at low exposure levels and then decreased at high exposure levels, which indicated the effects of antibiotics on agroecosystem functions were dose-dependent, except for earthworm biomass. Antibiotic contamination which will impose threats to agricultural sustainability was highlighted and should be paid more attention.

Original languageEnglish
Article number152056
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2022


  • Antibiotic contamination
  • Crop yield
  • Ecosystem functions
  • Nutrients
  • Soil biota
  • Tradeoffs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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