Oligochaete communities were monitored under semi-natural conditions in experimental ditch mesocosms. Twelve ditches were used in a Before-Control-After-Impact (BACI) experiment to study the effect of the insecticide chlorpyrifos. Another eight ditches were used in a randomized experiment to study the effect of eutrophication. Oligochaete communities were sampled by deploying trays of substratum for colonization over a 20-week period. The experiments were analyzed by multivariate analysis using redundancy analysis and Monte Carlo permutation to assess statistical significance. These novel methods have the advantage over classical multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) of being distribution-free and of having no restrictive upper limit on the number of species that can be analyzed simultaneously. In the BACI-experiment no significant effect of chlorpyrifos on oligochaete communities was detected. Eutrophication effects were observed at the higher eutrophication levels in clay ditches. Oligochaete abundances decreased in those ditches. Considerable variation was attributed to stochastic factors given that the ditches were in an early developmental stage when the experiments were initiated. Large-scale experiments such as the ones that we describe require time to develop and stabilize before parameters of community structure like population abundance, can be employed to detect changes associated with water quality manipulations.
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