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Earthworms in Ultramafic Soils E-mail
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Sunday, 12 August 2007
Earthworms in Ultramafic Soils

Growth and Reproduction of Earthworms in Ultramafic Soils

Maleri R, Reinecke SA, Mesjasz-Przybylowicz J, Reinecke AJ

Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2007

Ultramafic soils are characterized by high concentrations of heavy metals of natural origin-such as chromium, cobalt, manganese, and nickel-as well as a shortage of primary nutrients. This can result in extremely disadvantageous living conditions for all soil-dwelling organisms. Responses to these conditions were addressed by studying growth, cocoon production, and fecundity of earthworms as endpoints of sublethal effects and how this influences the reproductive system and, consequently, population development. Mature specimens of two ecophysiologically different species of earthworms, Eisenia fetida (Savigny) and Aporrectodea caliginosa (Savigny), were exposed for 56 days to an uncontaminated soil and ultramafic soils collected from six ultramafic sites in the Barberton greenstone belt. In all ultramafic soil samples, the specimens of both species grew slower than those in the control soil. In A. caliginosa, an autotomization of the tail section was observed at higher concentrations of heavy metals. At high levels of heavy metals such as manganese, chromium, nickel, and cobalt, a significantly lower cocoon production was recorded for E. fetida, and at medium levels, a time delay in cocoon production was found. A. caliginosa showed an increase in production at medium levels and a decrease at high levels of heavy metals. In both species, no correlation between growth and cocoon viability was found, indicating different target levels for toxicants present in ultramafic soils. To determine effects of these soils on population dynamics, hatching success may be a more useful endpoint of reproduction.

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