Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

The use of resource patches by earthworms


A field experiment was established to assess the effects of additional organic matter on earthworm populations. Bags of soil (15 cm deep) were placed in a pasture at Balhannah, South Australia, at the beginning of autumn 1991. The bags were initially seeded with five individuals ofAporrectodea trapezoides, and 250 g dried sheep manure was added to most bags. Manure was added either in pellet or milled form, and applied either on the surface, in the 5–10 cm layer, or evenly dispersed over 15 cm. In harvests during weeks 7,9, and 11 after the start of the experiment,A. trapezoides and three other species,A. caliginosa, A. rosea, andMicroscolex dubius, were recovered from the bags. Bags with added manure had significantly higher numbers of each species than bags with no manure. During the 4-week sampling period (weeks 7–11) the numbers ofM. dubius recovered per bag decreased, whileA. rosea increased. Total earthworm numbers were not influenced by either the form or the location of application of the manure. Earthworms were sampled from three depths, 0–5, 5–10, and 10–15 cm. Both numbers and biomass of earthworms were positively correlated with the location of the manure. Cocoons ofAporrectodea spp. were more abundant when the manure was milled and evenly dispersed, and were consistently located in the lower soil layers, regardless of the form or location of manure.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Abbott I (1985) Distribution of introduced earthworms in the northern jarrah forest of Western Australia. Aust J Soil Res 23:263–270

  2. Baker GH, Barrett VJ, Grey-Gardner R, Buckerfield JC (1992) The life history and abundance of the introduced earthwormsAporrectodea trapezoides andA. caliginosa (Annelida: Lumbricidae) in pasture soils in the Mount Lofty Ranges, South Australia. Aust J Ecol 17:177–188

  3. Baker GH, Buckerfield JC, Grey-Gardner R, Merry R, Doube B (1993) The abundance and diversity of earthworms in pasture soils in the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia. Soil Biol Biochem 24:1389–1396

  4. Barley KP (1959) The influence of earthworms on soil fertility. II. Consumption of soil and organic matter by the earthwormAllolobophora caliginosa (Savigny). Aust J Agric 10:179–185

  5. Bostrom U (1987) Growth of earthworms (Allolobophora caliginosa) in soil mixed with either barley, lucerne or meadow fescue at various stages of decomposition. Pedobiologica 30:311–321

  6. Cortez J, Hameed R, Bouche MB (1989) C and N transfer in soil with or without earthworms fed with14C-and15N-labelled wheat straw. Soil Biol Biochem 21:491–497

  7. Edwards CA, Lofty JR (1977) Biology of earthworms, 2nd edn. Chapman and Hall, London

  8. Haimi J, Huhta V (1986) Capacity of various organic residues to support adequate earthworm biomass for vermicomposting. Biol Fertil Soils 2:23–27

  9. Haukka JK (1987) Growth and survival ofEisenia fetida (Sav.) (Oligochaeta: Lumbricidae) in relation to temperature, moisture and presence ofEnchytraeus albidus (Enchytraeidae). Biol Fertil Soils 3:99–102

  10. Hendriksen NB (1991) Consumption and utilization of dung by detritivorous and geophagous earthworms in a Danish pasture. Pedobiologia 35:65–70

  11. Judas M (1990) The development of earthworm populations following manipulation of the canopy leaf litter in a beech wood on limestone. Pedobiologia 34:247–255

  12. Kudrajaseva IV (1976) The role of large soil invertebrates in the oak woods of the steppe forest zones of the Soviet Union. Pedobiologia 16:18–26

  13. Lavelle P (1988) Earthworm activities and the soil system. Biol Fertil Soils 6:237–251

  14. Lavelle P, Schaefer R, Zaidi Z (1989) Soil ingestion and growth inMillsonia anomala, a tropical earthworm, as influenced by the quality of the organic matter ingested. Pedobiologia 33:379–388

  15. Lee KE (1985) Earthworms: Their ecology and relationships with soils and land use. Academic Press, Sydney

  16. Piearce TG (1978) Gut contents of some lumbricid earthworms. Pedobiologia 18:153–157

  17. Sims RW, Gerard BM (1985) Earthworms. Syn Br Fauna 31, Linnaean Soc, London

  18. Standen V (1984) Production and diversity of enchytraeids, earthworms and plants in fertilized hay meadow plots. J Appl Ecol 21:293–312

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to C. M. Bull.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Hughes, M.S., Bull, C.M. & Doube, B.M. The use of resource patches by earthworms. Biol Fert Soils 18, 241–244 (1994).

Download citation

Key words

  • Earthworms
  • Food location
  • Population density
  • Aporrectodea
  • Microscolex
  • Organic manure Cocoon