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Earthworm Preference Bioassays to Evaluate Land Management Practices


Earthworm preference tests, especially in soil-dosed exposures, can be an informative tool for assessing land management practices. Agricultural management intended to increase crop yield and improve soil sustainability includes physical manipulation of topsoil through conventional tillage, reduced or no-tillage, and/or winter cover crops. Soil amendments include the addition of inorganic nitrogen or organic nitrogen derived from soil amendments including biosolids from sewage treatment plants, poultry litter, or locally available industrial effluent. This study used 48-h Eisenia fetida preference tests to assess impacts of agricultural management practices on soil macrofauna. Although in laboratory-dosed exposures, E. fetida preferred biosolid-dosed soils (80 %–95 % recovery) over control soils, the same results were not found with field soils receiving biosolid amendments (33 % recovery). Poultry litter-amended soils (68 % recovery) were preferred over control soils. No differences were measured between tilled fields and controls, and earthworms preferred control soils over those from fields with no-tillage and cover crops. Soil assessments through laboratory exposures such as these allows science-based agricultural management decisions to maintain or improve soil health.

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The authors would like to acknowledge funding from the Midsouth/Southeast Bioenergy Consortium award #DE-FG36-08GO88036 and Cotton Incorporated. We acknowledge Lisa Ellington at Paragould Wastewater Treatment Plant and Mannco Fertilizer, Inc. for contributing the biosolids for these exposures. Special thanks to Dr. Tina Teague, Judd Hill and Ecotoxicology Research Facility personnel, especially Alex Barnett for his assistance.

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Correspondence to Jennifer L. Bouldin.

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Bouldin, J.L., Klasky, J.W.P. & Green, V.S. Earthworm Preference Bioassays to Evaluate Land Management Practices. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 96, 767–772 (2016).

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  • Earthworm bioassays
  • Biosolids
  • Poultry litter
  • Tillage
  • Cover crops
  • Soil quality