Earthworm community development in soils of a reclaimed steelworks

Butt, Kevin Richard orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-0886-7795 and Quigg, Siobhan Marie (2021) Earthworm community development in soils of a reclaimed steelworks. Pedosphere, 31 (3). pp. 384-390. ISSN 1002-0160

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Long-term studies are essential to learn earthworm community development and soil formation post reclamation. Investigations were undertaken at a former steelworks site at Hallside, near Glasgow, UK, reclaimed in the 1990s using a mixture of colliery spoil and sewage sludge. The site was largely planted for production of short rotation coppice willow (Salix spp.). Earthworm inoculation formed a part of the restoration process. Minimal monitoring occurred in the interim, but some records of earthworm sampling existed in 2000 and 2005. This study focused on monitoring earthworms and soil properties across the site, drawing comparisons with adjacent unspoiled soil. Results showed that after 22 years, a species-rich community of earthworms (n = 16) colonized the site, with endogeic Aporrectodea caliginosa being dominant by number and anecic A. longa by mass. Across the site, earthworm community density and biomass were 208 individuals m−2 and 71 g m−2, respectively. The Shannon diversity index for earthworms was 1.89, with an evenness of 0.68. The sewage sludge increased the soil organic matter, but the stone content of the colliery spoil prevented digging in some locations. Soil chemistry had no negative effect on earthworms, but the compacted substrate did hinder water infiltration. Earthworms colonized the reclaimed site from adjacent areas, and community structure and density below well-drained, scrub-free willow, birch, and grassland were not significantly different (P > 0.05) from those of the adjacent unspoiled areas. The results show that the historical earthworm inoculation was unnecessary and badly timed. Future reclamations of similar sites can learn from this investigation.

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