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Assessment of avoidance behaviour by earthworms (Lumbricus rubellus and Octolasion cyaneum) in linear pollution gradients

Lowe, Christopher N., Butt, Kevin R., Cheynier, Kevin Yves-Marie
Ecotoxicology and environmental safety 2016 v.124 pp. 324-328
Lumbricus rubellus, Octolasion cyaneum, avoidance behavior, bioavailability, earthworms, pollutants, polluted soils, screening, soil quality
Avoidance behaviour by earthworms is recognised as a valuable endpoint in soil quality assessment and has resulted in the development of a standardised test (ISO 17512-1, 2008) providing epigeic earthworms with a choice between test and control soils. This study sought to develop and evaluate an avoidance test utilising soil-dwelling earthworms in linear pollution gradients with Visible Implant Elastomer (VIE) tags used to identify individual organisms. Sequential experiments were established in laboratory-based mesocosms (0.6m×0.13m×0.1m) that determined the relative sensitivities (in terms of associated avoidance behaviour) of Octolasion cyaneum and Lumbricus rubellus at varying levels of polluted soil and also assessed the influence of introduction point on recorded movement within gradients. In an initial gradient (0%, 25%, 50%, 75%, 100% polluted soil), both species exhibited a clear avoidance response with all surviving earthworms retrieved (after 7 days) from the unpolluted soil. In a less polluted gradient (0%, 6.25%, 12.5%, 18.75%, 25%) L. rubellus were retrieved throughout the gradient while O. cyaneum were located within the 0% and 6.25% divisions, suggesting a species-specific response to polluted soil. Results also showed that the use of a linear pollution gradient system has the potential to assess earthworm avoidance behaviour and could provide a more ecologically relevant alternative to the ISO 17512: 2008 avoidance test. However, further work is required to establish the effectiveness of this procedure, specifically in initial chemical screening and assessment of single contaminant bioavailability, where uptake of pollutants by earthworms could be measured and directly related to the point of introduction and retrieval.