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

Archie K. Murchie, Alan W. Gordon
Biological invasions 2013 v.15 no.3 pp. 569-586
Aporrectodea longa, Lumbricus rubellus, Lumbricus terrestris, Platyhelminthes, biomass, earthworms, field experimentation, grasslands, islands, predators, principal component analysis, risk, soil, wildlife, Faroe Islands, Ireland, New Zealand, United Kingdom
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.