Earthworm Assemblages in Different Intensity of Agricultural Uses and Their Relation to Edaphic Variables

Abstract

The objective of this study was to relate earthworm assemblage structure with three different soil use intensities, and to indentify the physical, chemical, and microbiological soil variables that are associated to the observed differences. Three soil uses were evaluated: 1-Fifty year old naturalized grasslands, low use intensity; 2-Recent agricultural fields, intermediate use intensity, and 3-Fifty year old intensive agricultural fields, high use intensity. Three different sites for each soil use were evaluated from winter 2008 through summer 2011. Nine earthworm species were identified across all sampling sites. The sites shared five species: the native Microscolex dubius, and the introduced Aporrectodea caliginosa, A. rosea, Octalasion cyaneum, and O. lacteum, but they differed in relative abundance by soil use. The results show that the earthworm community structure is linked to and modulated by soil properties. Both species abundance and diversity showed significant differences depending on soil use intensity. A principal component analysis showed that species composition is closely related to the environmental variability. The ratio of native to exotic species was significantly lower in the intensive agricultural system when compared to the other two, lower disturbance systems. Microscolex dubius abundance was related to naturalized grasslands along with soil Ca, pH, mechanical resistance, and microbial respiration. Aporrectodea caliginosa abundance was related to high K levels, low enzymatic activity, slightly low pH, low Ca, and appeared related to the highly disturbed environment. Eukerria stagnalis and Aporrectodea rosea, commonly found in the recent agricultural system, were related to high soil moisture condition, low pH, low Ca and low enzymatic activity. These results show that earthworm assemblages can be good indicators of soil use intensities. In particular, Microscolex dubius, Aporrectodea caliginosa, and Aporrectodea rosea, showed different temporal patterns and species associations, due to the changes in soil properties attributable to soil use intensity, defined as the amount and type of agricultural operations.

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