Do elevated soil concentrations of metals affect the diversity and activity of soil invertebrates in the long-term?

R.E. Creamer*, D.L. Rimmer, H.I.J. Black

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


This study aimed to elucidate the response of diversity and activity of soil invertebrates to elevated soil metal concentrations that were a result of sewage sludge application. Field sampling of soil invertebrates was carried out from 2002 to 2004 at an experimental site established in 1982 to test the effects on crop production of metal contamination from sewage sludge applications with elevated concentrations of zinc (Zn), copper (Cu) and nickel (Ni) with certain treatments exceeding the current UK statutory limits for the safe use of sludge on land. At metal concentrations within the limits, none of the invertebrates sampled showed adverse effects on their abundance or overall community diversity (from Shannon-Weiner index). At concentrations above the limits, individual taxa showed sensitivity to different metals, but overall diversity was not affected. Earthworm abundance was significantly reduced at total Cu concentrations at and above 176 mg kg-1, while nematode and enchytraeid abundances were sensitive to Cu and high Zn concentrations. Correspondingly, litter decomposition was lower in Zn and Cu treatments although there was no direct relationship between decomposition and soil invertebrate abundance or diversity. Such enduring changes in both soil biodiversity and biological activity around the current UK regulatory limits warrant further investigation to determine whether they indicate detrimental damage to soil functioning over the long-term.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-46
Number of pages10
JournalSoil Use and Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Litterbags
  • Metals
  • Sewage sludge
  • Soil
  • Soil invertebrates


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