Saturday, 15 July 2006

The Ecology of Earthworms on Five UK Golf Courses.

Mark D. Bartlett, National Soil Resource Institute, Cranfield Univ at Silsoe, Silsoe, Bedfordshire, United Kingdom, Karl Ritz, The National Soil Resources Institute, Cranfield Univ, Barton Road, Silsoe, Bedford, MK45 4DT, United Kingdom, Jim A. Harris, Institute of Water and Environment, Cranfield Univ, Barton Road, Silsoe, Bedford, MK45 4DT, United Kingdom, and Iain T. James, Cranfield Centre for Sports Science, Cranfield Univ at Silsoe, Silsoe, Bedfordshire, United Kingdom.

The presence of earthworm casts on golf courses is an established problem within turfgrass in relation to the maintenance of a consistently playable and aesthetically pleasing surface. Traditionally, earthworms have been controlled using pesticides but these have been banned in the UK under European Union legislation. The result has been a reported increase in adverse earthworm activity on golf courses. However, there is no quantitative data on earthworms in golf courses currently available. This work aims to quantify the problem of earthworm casts within the golf industry. With an increased understanding of the earthworm ecology of golf courses it is intended that a sustainable and ecologically acceptable method of controlling anecic earthworms within golf turfgrass can be developed. To make an assessment of the scale of the problem, a survey of earthworm casts was carried out over 18 months at five golf courses based on different soil series, in Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, UK. Earthworm activity at the surface was quantified by counting the number of casts in randomly placed, replicated, 0.25 m2 quadrats. This was used as a surrogate measure of anecic earthworm activity, since casts are associated with permanent burrows. Separate assessments were made on different play surfaces: tee, fairway and green on each hole of each golf course on alternate months. At each of the sites a wide range of soil physical, chemical and biological properties were also measured to characterize the environment in which the earthworms live. These data show significant third-order interactions between play surfaces, golf courses and time (p < 0.001 in all cases). This suggests that different microclimates and soil environments have a major impact on the density of earthworms on golf courses. These differences may also be attributed to different cultivation practices by green keepers. Temporal variation reflects an increase activity of earthworms when individuals reach sexual maturity during the autumn. Extraction of earthworms using mustard solution has been used to identify the species causing casting damage on golf courses.

The microbiological communities associated with the different surfaces has also been characterised, by measuring microbial biomass and phenotypic profiling based on phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) analysis. Preliminary data relating to these properties will be presented.

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