Earthworm communities in arable fields and restored field margins, as related to management practices and surrounding landscape diversity

Frazão, Joana; Goede, Ron G.M. de; Brussaard, Lijbert; Faber, Jack H.; Groot, Jeroen C.J.; Pulleman, Mirjam M.


Agricultural intensification has negative impacts on biodiversity at spatial scales from field to landscape. Earthworms are important for soil functioning, so it is crucial to understand the responses of earthworm communities to agricultural management and land use. We aimed to: 1) investigate whether earthworm communities differed between relatively undisturbed field margins, and highly disturbed arable fields; and 2) quantify how earthworm communities of arable fields and field margins are affected by three environmental filters, i.e. soil properties, management practices, and composition of the surrounding landscape. Earthworms were sampled in 26 arable fields and 15 field margins, across a polder area in The Netherlands. While earthworm density, total biomass and species richness did not differ significantly among arable fields and field margins, rarefied earthworm species richness and community composition did. The three environmental filters affected earthworm communities of arable fields and field margins differently. In arable fields, earthworm communities were explained by arable management only (26%). In contrast, all three filters contributed significantly to the variation in earthworm communities of field margins, where management practices explained a larger part of the variation (18%) than the surrounding landscape (11%) and soil properties (10%). Our results suggest that soil properties and surrounding landscape can affect earthworm communities of field margins. However, in the arable fields, where more diverse lumbricid communities are desirable to improve soil functions, such influences are negated by the impact of management at field scale. We demonstrated that field margins enhance earthworm biodiversity in arable landscapes, but surrounding landscape and field margins had limited impact on earthworm communities in arable fields. Decision-making and research should focus on less intensive management options for arable fields to stimulate earthworms and earthworm-mediated soil functions.