Comparisons of earthworm populations and cast properties in conventional and organic arable rotations

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Type Article
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-300
Number of pages8
JournalSoil Use and Management
Volume18
Issue numberS1
DOI
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2002
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Abstract

Earthworms influence a wide range of soil properties. They are affected by practices that perturb the soil or change organic inputs. This study compared populations in UK organic and conventional rotations differing in such practices. Three farm pairs, ranging from stockless to arable-grassland systems, were sampled on three occasions in each of two crop years. Additional farm pairs were sampled on a single occasion. Nine common earthworm species were grouped into three classes based on the depth ranges from which they were recovered. Cast and soil samples were taken from leys to compare aggregate stability, organic and nutrient content, and microbial biomass. For similar rotation stages, populations of surface and shallow species classes were often larger in organic systems. In some comparisons the reverse was the case, particularly as the proportion of ley within each pair increased. System differences in biomass, but not abundance, could be attributed to the proportion of leys in rotations; individual earthworm weights were larger in conventional systems. Casts from both systems had markedly higher organic contents, stability, available P and K concentrations, and microbial biomass than underlying soil. This trend was more pronounced in conventional sites for nutrients and microbial biomass. Differences in populations and cast properties may have implications for soil fertility and wider ecosystem function.

Keywords

  • earthworms, organic farming, rotations, arable land, UK