Soil fauna diversity under short rotation forestry: Impacts and responses

Soil sustainability PhD studentship summary.
Nalika Rajapaksha, University of Central Lancashire, 2009-2012.

Leaf litter


An important but largely unidentified aspect of Short Rotation Forestry (SRF) is the quality/quantity of litter, its decomposition and incorporation in the soil environment. This decomposition is primarily dependent on soil faunal diversity and activity. A representative and often important component of the soil fauna is the earthworm community.

The overall aim of this project is to investigate the effect of interacting factors of SRF tree species and soil types on the earthworm community. In addition, the effect of earthworms on litter decomposition, soil carbon and nutrient cycling of these systems will be assessed.

Research objectives

  • To establish a baseline of earthworm diversity at agricultural sites and compare with similarly derived SRF sites.
  • To assess and compare the impact of different SRF tree species on earthworm populations.
  • To assess the contribution of earthworms to SRF litter decomposition and nutrient recycling.
  • To augment Forest Research soil C balance and process models by incorporating earthworm-related data.
  • To assist development of a model to predict impacts of SRF on below-ground fauna, thus wider ecosystem functions.


Two of the larger earthworm species found at SRF sites

Lumbricus terrestris
Octolasion cyaneum
Lumbricus terrestris
Lumbricus terrestris
  • The earthworm survey at SRF trial sites will provide information about the effect of SRF tree species and soil types on soil faunal community.
  • Laboratory experiments will investigate the direct effects of SRF species litter on earthworm growth, reproduction, casting activity and nutrient cycling.
  • Field litterbag experiments will assess the contribution of the earthworm community to SRF litter decomposition and nutrient cycling within these systems.
  • A tree nursery experiment will record the effects of SRF root chemistry on earthworms and consequently the effects of earthworms on plant root growth and nutrient uptake.

Funders and partners

This PhD project is jointly funded and supervised by Forest Research and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).


The research programme started in Oct. 2009 and continues until Sep. 2012.

Related links

Earthworm Research Group, UCLan


Nalika Rajapaksha
Kirkham Building
School of Built and Natural Environment
University of Central Lancashire

Tel: 01772 89 4218     
Mobile: 079 1774 4825