Citation McCallum HM, Wilson J, Beaumont D, Sheldon R, O'Brien MG & Park K (2016) A role for liming as a conservation intervention? Earthworm abundance is associated with higher soil pH and foraging activity of a threatened shorebird in upland grasslands. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 223, pp. 182-189. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2016.03.005
Abstract The relationship between farmland bird populations and agricultural intensification has been well studied. However, the impact of variation in soil conditions and soil management is an exception, especially in upland (sub-alpine) farming systems. In this study, we examined the relationships between liming history, soil pH and patterns of foraging by Northern Lapwing,Vanellus vanellus, chicks in order to test the potential utility of soil amendment as a conservation intervention for shorebirds nesting in agricultural grasslands. Limed fields had higher soil pH than unlimed fields, and soil pH declined with the number of years since a field was last limed. The most important predictor of total earthworm abundance was soil organic matter with very few earthworms in peats of very high organic matter content. However, there was a marked additive effect of soil pH with earthworms more than twice as abundant at high (pH 6.0) as at the low (pH 3.5) extremes of soil pH recorded in the study. Specifically, at Lapwing chick foraging locations, the density ofAllolobophora chlorotica, an acid-intolerant species of earthworm found just below the surface of the soil, was significantly higher than at randomly selected locations. These results suggest that liming helped to maintain breeding habitat quality for Lapwings and other species dependent on earthworms. This is of conservation significance in upland agricultural grasslands in the UK, where there has been a long-term reduction in agricultural lime use since the mid-20th century. Field-scale trials of liming would be valuable to test whether targetted amendment of soil pH in agriculturally improved grasslands could retain an important role in conservation management for shorebirds in upland landscapes where geology, high rainfall, and leaching tend to acidify soils over time.