Management of plant communities on set-aside land and its effects on earthworm communities
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Plant communities of set-aside agricultural land in a European project were managed in order to enhance plant succession towards weed-resistant, mid-successional grassland. Here, we ask if the management of a plant community affects the earthworm community. Field experiments were established in four countries, the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK, and the Czech Republic. High (15 plant species) and low diversity (four plant species) seed mixtures were sown as management practice, with natural colonization as control treatment in a randomized block design. The response of the earthworrns to the management was studied after three summers since establishment of the sites. Samples were also taken from plots with continued agricultural practices included in the experimental design and from a site with a late successional plant community representing the target plant community. The numbers and biomass of individuals were higher in the set-aside plots than in the agricultural treatment in two countries out of four. The numbers of individuals at one site (The Netherlands) was higher in the naturally colonized plots than in the sowing treatments, otherwise there were no differences between the treatments. Species diversity was lower in the agricultural plots in one country. The species composition had changed from the initial community of the agricultural field, but was still different from a late successional target community. The worm biomass was positively related to legume biomass in Sweden and to grass biomass in the UK. (C) 2005 Elsevier SAS. All rights reserved.