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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Alternative combinations of tillage practices and crop rotations can foster earthworm density and bioturbation

Torppa, Kaisa A.; Taylor, Astrid R.


Earthworms, which contribute to important soil functions, suffer from intensive agriculture. Their response depends among other things on the earthworm ecological group (anecic, endogeic, epigeic) and the combination of the applied farming practices. To advice on methodological adaptations that enhance earthworm-mediated soil functions, effects of different practices on earthworms need to be studied in concert. We investigated the effects of tillage intensity (conventional, reduced, no tillage) and crop rotation diversity (simple = wheat, barley; diverse = wheat, peas, oil seed rape) on earthworm density and community composition in a Swedish long-term experiment. Furthermore, we calculated annual earthworm bioturbation to quantify the effects of farming practices on earthworm functions. Total earthworm densities did not vary between the different tillage intensities, but were on average 58% higher in the diverse than in the simple crop rotation. The pattern was mainly due to the response of the most abundant endogeic earthworms, which were not affected by tillage intensity, but were nearly two times more abundant in the diverse than in the simple crop rotation. Densities of anecic earthworms were 17 times higher under no tillage than conventional tillage. Anecic earthworms also benefitted from a diversified crop rotation, but the response depended on tillage intensity. The level of bioturbation reflected the response of anecic earthworms, and was more than four times higher under no tillage, 549 g dw m(-2) year(-1), than under conventional tillage. We conclude that highest earthworm bioturbation is best achieved with no tillage. However, earthworm densities and potentially bioturbation can be increased also by a diversified crop rotation, when reducing tillage intensity is not feasible.


Direct sowing; Ecological intensification; Lumbricidae; Moldboard ploughing; Sustainable agriculture

Published in

Applied Soil Ecology
2022, Volume: 175, article number: 104460
Publisher: ELSEVIER

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    • Sustainable Development Goals

      SDG2 Zero hunger

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      Soil Science

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