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New Zealand has 23 exotic and more than 200 endemic earthworm species. Endemic earthworms disappeared quickly after vegetation clearance and land conversion to agriculture from the early C19th. Environmental changes associated with agronomic practices are believed to have been the main drivers for their disappearance. Exotic earthworms introduced from Europe have since largely replaced endemic earthworms into farming systems and have been intentionally propagated to increase production. Little is known about potential competition between endemic and exotic earthworms in New Zealand, and the capacity of exotic earthworms to extend their range into native habitats. Using two sites in the South Island of New Zealand, we investigated the impact of restoring native vegetation on earthworm communities. The study sites were Quail Island (Banks Peninsula), which has been undergoing native plant restoration for more than 30 years, and the Punakaiki Coastal Restoration Project (West Coast) where 130,000 native trees have been planted in retired pasture in the last seven years. At each site, soil samples (20 x 20 x 20 cm) were collected and hand sorted for earthworms. Sequential restoration plantings revealed that recolonisation by endemic earthworms increases with time after restoration at the two sample sites. With increasing age of the restoration, the biomass of endemic earthworm significantly increased, as did abundance at Punakaiki. However, exotic species did not disappear after restoration of native vegetation, even after 30 years in Quail Island. The persistence of exotic species leads to the cohabitation of the two communities and potential for interspecific competition.
This paper is an extended version of a short communication currently under revision in the journal Restoration Ecology.
Earthworm sampling data
Earthworm counts and biomass from 12 sampling sites in Punakaiki and 12 sampling sites on Quail Island