Earthworm records and habitat associations in the British Isles

Ashwood, F., Brown, K.D., Sherlock, E., Keith, A.M., Forster, J. and Butt, Kevin Richard orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-0886-7795 (2024) Earthworm records and habitat associations in the British Isles. European Journal of Soil Biology, 122 . ISSN 1164-5563

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The National Earthworm Recording Scheme (NERS) is the most comprehensive national database of earthworm species occurrence records for the British Isles, and possibly for any individual country in the world. Utilising the NERS database, we sought to update the current knowledge of earthworm species occurrences in the UK, Ireland and Channel Islands; identify species-specific habitat and microhabitat associations; reveal any biases and complementarities between amateur naturalist and research-related earthworm record collection; and inform how future earthworm sampling can be better focussed to improve our knowledge of earthworm ecology. We found that the most commonly occurring earthworm species were present in farmland and woodland, and recovered via soil pit sampling, the most common habitat-sampling protocol combinations. However, several earthworm species showed specificity to alternative habitats (such as trees, wetlands, and compost), and association with microhabitat (non-soil) sampling. There were clear disparities between scientific researchers and amateur naturalist recorders in terms of habitat types visited and sampling protocols/microhabitats used in the collection of earthworm records. Most importantly, we found that earthworm species currently considered to be nationally ‘rare’ in the British Isles are significantly associated with the most under-represented habitat-protocol/microhabitat combinations (forest deadwood and other microhabitats, in addition to scrubland, wetland and heathland habitats), and thus may not be rare, only under-sampled. We therefore encourage earthworm researchers and recorders to give greater attention to these situations, to gain new insights into these earthworm species' ecologies and distributions. Finally, we would like to promote the establishment of earthworm recording schemes in other countries, to enable national and global collaborative monitoring of earthworm responses to environmental change.

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