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Improving ecological risk assessment in the Mediterranean area: Selection of reference soils and evaluating the influence of soil properties on avoidance and reproduction of two oligochaete species



A current challenge in soil ecotoxicology is the use of natural soils as test substrates to increase ecological relevance of data. Despite the existence of six natural reference soils (the Euro-soils), some parallel projects showed that these soils do not accurately represent the diversity of European soils. Particularly, Mediterranean soils are not properly represented. To fill this gap, 12 natural soils from the Mediterranean regions of Alentejo, Portugal; Cataluña, Spain; and Liguria, Italy, were selected and used in reproduction and avoidance tests to evaluate the soil habitat function for earthworms (Eisenia andrei) and enchytraeids (Enchytraeus crypticus). Predictive models on the influence of soil properties on the responses of these organisms were developed using generalized linear models. Results indicate that the selected soils can impact reproduction and avoidance behavior of both Oligochaete species. Reproduction of enchytraeids was affected by different soil properties, but the test validity criteria were fulfilled. The avoidance response of enchytraeids was highly variable, but significant effects of texture and pH were found. Earthworms were more sensitive to soil properties. They did not reproduce successfully in three of the 10 soils, and a positive influence of moisture, fine sand, pH, and organic matter and a negative influence of clay were found. Moreover, they strongly avoided soils with extreme textures. Despite these limitations, most of the selected soils are suitable substrates for ecotoxicological evaluations. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2011; 30:1050–1058. © 2011 SETAC