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A simple and effective method to keep earthworms confined to open-top mesocosms

Lubbers, I.M.; Groenigen, J.W. van

Summary

Earthworms can have a profound effect on a myriad of soil physical, chemical and microbial parameters. To better understand their role in the soil, they are often studied under controlled conditions. However, a persistent problem in such controlled experiments is the ability of earthworms to escape from experimental units with open tops (e.g. for plant growth). Here, we tested whether adhesive hook tape applied to the inside of mesocosms is effective in confining them to their experimental units. A mesocosm study was set up with hook tape treatments (control, one layer, two layers), mesocosm material (polyvinylchloride – PVC, polypropylene – PP) and earthworm species (Lumbricus rubellus (Hoffmeister), Aporrectodea caliginosa (Savigny), Lumbricus terrestris (L.) + Aporrectodea longa (Ude)) as different factors to study the escape of earthworms during 24 h. In the treatments without hook tape, individuals of L. rubellus and A. caliginosa escaped, with highest escape rates (80%) for L. rubellus from the PP mesocosms, and lowest escape rates (20%) for A. caliginosa from the PVC mesocosms. When hook tape was applied, in either one or two layers, no individuals of those species escaped. The two anecic earthworm species, L. terrestris and A. longa did not escape from any mesocosms, irrespective of the presence of hook tape. As not a single earthworm escaped from the hook tape treatments, we conclude that applying hook tape is a simple, inexpensive and effective method to keep earthworms confined to experimental units.