The impact of the ‘New Zealand flatworm’, Arthurdendyus triangulatus, on earthworm populations in the field

Abstract

The ‘New Zealand flatworm’, Arthurdendyus triangulatus, is a native of the South Island of New Zealand, which has established in the UK, Ireland and the Faroe Islands. In its introduced range, it is a predator of lumbricid earthworms. To assess the impact of A. triangulatus on earthworm species, flatworm distributions were manipulated into ‘high’, control and ‘low’ densities within a replicated field experiment. Earthworm biomass in the ‘high’ flatworm density treatment was significantly lower than the control or ‘low’ treatments. This was due to a reduction in the anecic species Lumbricus terrestris and, to a lesser extent, Aporrectodea longa. There was little evidence of negative effects on other earthworm species, with even a weakly positive relationship between flatworm density and epigeic biomass. Principal components analysis showed a clear separation of anecic species from A. triangulatus, but the epigeic species Lumbricus festivus and Lumbricus rubellus grouped with A. triangulatus, suggesting that they could be benefitting from reduced intraguild competition. Flatworm densities of 0.8 per m2, comparable to natural infestations in grassland, were predicted to give a reduction in total earthworm biomass of c. 20 %. The bulk of this was comprised of a reduction in anecic species biomass. In particular, it is considered that A. triangulatus poses a serious risk to L. terrestris populations, with implications for soil functioning and indigenous earthworm-feeding wildlife.

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Acknowledgments

This study has been a long time in the completion, not only did the field work take almost 4 years but there were over 25,000 individual earthworms identified and weighed. We wish to thank the following for all their help in managing the experimental site, collecting samples and the considerable task of identifying specimens: Paul Moore, Sam Clawson, Jill Forsythe, John Anderson, Gareth Blair, Catherine Dynes, Ian Rea, Ivan Forsythe and Seamus McDaid. Clare Flanagan assisted with the statistics and Laura Murchie helped with data processing. Lastly, can we offer a sincere thank-you to the three anonymous reviewers whose insightful comments much improved the direction (e.g. community-level effects) and clarity of the manuscript. This work was funded by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (Northern Ireland) with additional support from the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (now the Scottish Government Enterprise and Environment Directorate).

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Murchie, A.K., Gordon, A.W. The impact of the ‘New Zealand flatworm’, Arthurdendyus triangulatus, on earthworm populations in the field. Biol Invasions 15, 569–586 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-012-0309-7

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Keywords

  • Terrestrial flatworm
  • Ecological impact
  • Earthworms
  • Manipulative experiment
  • Lumbricus terrestris