Developing a systematic sampling method for earthworms in and around deadwood

Ashwood, Frank, Vanguelova, Elena, Benham, Sue and Butt, Kevin Richard orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-0886-7795 (2019) Developing a systematic sampling method for earthworms in and around deadwood. Forest Ecosystems, 6 (33). ISSN 2095-6355

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Background: The ecological importance of deadwood is widely acknowledged, however popular forestry practices may reduce deadwood from a site, and most European forests now fall below recommended targets, putting deadwood-associated species at risk. There is increasing evidence that earthworm species which live in alternative habitats such as deadwood can be missed by traditional sampling methods, which can lead to false classifications regarding species distributions and conservation status and value. Resolving the current lack of a systematic and quantitative methodology for surveying earthworms in microhabitats such as deadwood may therefore lead to valuable insights into earthworm species ecologies in forest ecosystems. The main aim of this research was to develop and trial a systematic method for surveying deadwood-associated earthworms, with potential future application to other invertebrates. Sampling of earthworms within soil, deadwood and soil beneath deadwood was carried out across a chronosequence of unmanaged oak forest stands. The results were then used to investigate the influence of soil and deadwood environmental factors and woodland age on the earthworm populations of oak-dominated broadleaf woodlands.
Results: Results from our surveys successfully show that in oak woodland habitats with deadwood, omitting deadwood microhabitats from earthworm sampling can lead to underestimates of total earthworm species richness, abundance and biomass. We also found a significantly greater proportion of juveniles within the earthworm communities of broadleaf deadwood, where temperature and moisture conditions were more favourable than surrounding open soil habitats.
Conclusions: The systematic method presented should be considered as additional and complementary to traditional sampling protocols, to provide a realistic estimate of earthworm populations in woodland systems. Adopting this quantitative approach to surveying the biodiversity value of deadwood may enable forest management practices to more effectively balance wood production against ecological and conservation values. Opportunities for further development of the sampling methodology are proposed.

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