Short-term responses of two contrasting species of earthworms in an agricultural soil amended with coal fly-ash.

M.A. Muir, I. Yunusa, M. Burchett, R. Lawrie, K.Y. Chan, V. Manoharan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Citations (Scopus)


With the renewed interest in the use of coal fly-ash for amendment of agricultural soils in Australia, we assessed how earthworms, as indicators of soil health, responded to this ameliorant. We assessed survival, weight, burrowing and elemental concentrations for earthworms of a native unnamed Megascolecid species and of exotic Aporrectodea trapezoides in intact soil cores treated with an alkaline fly-ash at rates equivalent to 0, 5 and 25 t/ha over 6 weeks. Fly-ash did not affect survival, growth, number of burrows created or phosphorus solubilisation. Transfer of the earthworms to the new environment having vastly different pH from where they were collected, and possibly overcrowding, caused mortality in the soil cores for all treatments. A. trapezoides that had smaller individuals suffered mortality of 12% compared with 23% for the larger earthworms of Megascolecids. Earthworms of Megascolecids each increased their weight by 0.24g (25% of their original weight) while those of A. trapezoides lost 0.18g each (21% of their original weight). The difference in growth between the two earthworms was associated with grazing habit and probably with the large difference in the pH between source soil and that of the core soil. Megascolecids appeared to minimize grazing on ash-tainted soil and so ingested less Zn, which was more abundant in the fly-ash than in the soil, compared with A. trapezoides that had elevated concentration of this metal. Extractable P in the soil was increased with both species of earthworms, more so with the exotic species that solubilized 11% more P than the native Megascolecids. The benign influence of fly-ash on survival and growth of worms was associated with the pH of soil remaining unchanged during the six weeks of incubation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)987-992
Number of pages6
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2007

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