Increased frequency of drought reduces species richness of enchytraeid communities in both wet and dry heathland soils

Martin Holmstrup, Jesper G. Sørensen, Kristine Maraldo, Inger K. Schmidt, Sharon Mason, Albert Tietema, Andrew R. Smith, Bridget Emmett, Rüdiger M. Schmelz, Thomas Bataillon, Claus Beier, Bodil Ehlers

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Studies of biological responses in the terrestrial environment to rapid changes in climate have mostly been concerned with above-ground biota, whereas less is known of belowground organisms. The present study focuses on enchytraeids (Oligochaeta) of heathland ecosystems and how the enchytraeid community has responded to simulated climate change in a long-term field experiment. Either increased temperature or repeated drought was applied for 13 years to field plots located in Wales, The Netherlands and Denmark representing a gradient in precipitation and annual temperature fluctuations thereby providing an opportunity to study biological responses on a local (within sites) and regional scale. Warming treatments increasing night-time temperature (0.5–1 °C higher than ambient at 5 cm soil depth) had no detectable effects on the enchytraeid communities. Increased intensity and frequency of drought had rather weak persistent effects on total enchytraeid abundance suggesting that ecosystem functions of enchytraeids may only be transiently impacted by repeated spring or summer drought. However, drought treatment had persistent negative effects on species richness and community structure across sites. Drought treated plots harboured only 35–65% of the species present in control plots, and the reduction of species richness was most pronounced at the driest sites. It is discussed that soil invertebrates, due to their weak migratory potential, may be more liable to extinction under changing climatic conditions than above-ground species, and therefore consequences of climate change to soil organisms need particular attention in future research.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSoil Biology & Biochemistry
Pages (from-to)43-49
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Climate change
  • Clitellata
  • Oligochaeta
  • Soil fauna
  • Community composition


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