The leaf-litter earthworm fauna (Annelida: Oligochaeta) of forests in Limpopo Province, South Africa: diversity, communities and conservation
A qualitative survey of the leaf-litter earthworm fauna of 11 selected indigenous forests in Limpopo Province, South Africa, was conducted to identify the species present, to describe the communities and to assess the relationship between indigenous and exotic species. A total of 8185 individuals from 17 species (five indigenous and 12 exotic species) were recorded. The average earthworm community comprised fewer than five species, but up to seven species were sampled from a single forest. Four of the species recorded are national (one species), regional (one species) or local (two species) endemics. Because these species are not known to live elsewhere, the protection of Limpopo Province forests is critical to their survival. The majority (71%) of the earthworm species sampled was exotic, and differences between exotic and indigenous species richness in forests were mostly significant. At the two spatial scales examined (20 m2 and individual forest) there is no evidence of an association between exotic and indigenous species richness. However, we cannot assume that exotic earthworms do not impact the forest ecosystem.
Key words: community structure, endemics, alien species, Afromontane forest, Acanthodrilidae, Microchaetidae, Lumbricidae.