Long-term effects of fertilisation regime on earthworm abundance in a semi-natural grassland area

Timmerman, A.; Bos, D.; Ouwehand, J.; Goede, R.G.M. de


Environmental protection organisations involved in farmland-bird conservation promote the use of organic fertilisers, especially farmyard manure, to enhance the availability of earthworms, which are an important prey for farmland-birds. We studied changes in earthworm numbers in a field experiment on a semi-natural grassland with three different types of fertilisation; no fertilisation (NF), and application of slurry manure (SM) or farmyard manure (FM). Samples were taken in April, yearly from 1982 to 1990 and in 2005. On average, the SM treatment had a lower (29%) earthworm abundance and a higher mean individual body weight than the FM and NF treatments. No statistically significant differences were observed between the FM and NF treatment. In 2005, earthworm abundance did not differ between the SM and NF treatment. The yearly variation in earthworm numbers and biomass was high, and significantly related to winter coldness. Colder winters resulted in lower earthworm abundances in the next spring. Especially the number of endogeic earthworms varied with winter coldness. The large variation between years stresses the need to be careful with the interpretation of short-term field experiments, or comparisons between areas based on single sampling events