Selection of focal earthworm species as non-target soil organisms for environmental risk assessment of genetically modified plants

Christine van Capelle, Stefan Schrader, Salvatore Arpaia

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By means of a literature survey, earthworm species of significant relevance for soil functions in different biogeographical regions of Europe (Atlantic, Boreal, Mediterranean) were identified. These focal earthworm species, defined here according to the EFSA Guidance Document on the environmental risk assessment (ERA) of genetically modified plants, are typical for arable soils under crop rotations with maize and/or potatoes within the three regions represented by Ireland, Sweden and Spain, respectively. Focal earthworm species were selected following a matrix of four steps: Identification of functional groups, categorization of non-target species, ranking species on ecological criteria, and final selection of focal species. They are recommended as appropriate non-target organisms to assess environmental risks of genetically modified (GM) crops; in this case maize and potatoes. In total, 44 literature sources on earthworms in arable cropping systems including maize or potato from Ireland, Sweden and Spain were collected, which present information on species diversity, individual density and specific relevance for soil functions. By means of condensed literature data, those species were identified which (i) play an important functional role in respective soil systems, (ii) are well adapted to the biogeographical regions, (iii) are expected to occur in high abundances under cultivation of maize or potato and (iv) fulfill the requirements for an ERA test system based on life-history traits. First, primary and secondary decomposers were identified as functional groups being exposed to the GM crops. In a second step, anecic and endogeic species were categorized as potential species. In step three, eight anecic and endogeic earthworm species belonging to the family Lumbricidae were ranked as relevant species: Aporrectodea caliginosa, Aporrectodea rosea, Aporrectodea longa, Allolobophora chlorotica, Lumbricus terrestris, Lumbricus friendi, Octodrilus complanatus and Octolasion cyaneum. Five out of these eight species are relevant for each biogeographical region with an overlap in the species. Finally, the earthworm species Ap. caliginosa (endogeic, secondary decomposer) and L. terrestris (anecic, primary decomposer) were selected as focal species. In the Mediterranean region L. terrestris may be substituted by the more relevant anecic species L. friendi. The selected focal species are recommended to be included in a standardized laboratory ERA test system based on life-history traits.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)360 - 369
Number of pages10
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution

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