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Predicting potential impacts of climate change on the geographical distribution of enchytraeids: a meta-analysis approach



    1. Departamento de Ecología y Biología Animal, Facultad de Biología, Universidad de Vigo, 36310 Vigo, Spain,
    2. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Lancaster Environment Centre, Library Avenue, Bailrigg, Lancaster LA1 4AP, UK,
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    1. Department of Biology, University of York, York YO1 5YW, UK,
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    1. Centre for Terrestrial Carbon Dynamics, Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York, York YO1 5DD, UK
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M. J. I. Briones, Departamento de Ecología y Biología Animal, Universidad de Vigo, 36310 Vigo, Spain, tel. +34 986 812584, fax +34 986 812556, e-mail:


The expectation that atmospheric warming will be most pronounced at higher latitudes means that Arctic and montane systems, with predominantly organic soils, will be particularly influenced by climate change. One group of soil fauna, the enchytraeids, is commonly the major soil faunal component in specific biomes, frequently exceeding above-ground fauna in biomass terms. These organisms have a crucial role in carbon turnover in organic rich soils and seem particularly sensitive to temperature changes. In order to predict the impacts of climate change on this important group of soil organisms we reviewed data from 44 published papers using a combination of conventional statistical techniques and meta-analysis. We focused on the effects of abiotic factors on total numbers of enchytraeids (a total of 611 observations) and, more specifically, concentrated on total numbers, vertical distribution and age groupings of the well-studied species Cognettia sphagnetorum (228 observations). The results highlight the importance of climatic factors, together with vegetation and soil type in determining global enchytraeid distribution; in particular, cold and wet environments with mild summers are consistently linked to greater densities of enchytraeids. Based on the upper temperature distribution limits reported in the literature, and identified from our meta-analyses, we also examined the probable future geographical limits of enchytraeid distribution in response to predicted global temperature changes using the HadCM3 model climate output for the period between 2010 and 2100. Based on the existing data we identify that a maximum mean annual temperature threshold of 16 °C could be a critical limit for present distribution of field populations, above which their presence would decline markedly, with certain key species, such as C. sphagnetorum, being totally lost from specific regions. We discuss the potential implications for carbon turnover in these organic soils where these organisms currently dominate and, consequently, their future role as C sink/source in response to climate change.