POSTED BY: KEN MCENTEE OCTOBER 30, 2023
By Sarah Derouin for Geological Society of America
Earthworms, beneficial for gardens and compost, also play a significant role in soil processes, according to Stanford doctoral student Adrian Wackett. Their gizzards grind up soil grains and organic material, aiding in nutrient release and soil texture formation. However, earthworms can be invasive and disrupt natural ecosystems. Their activity affects soil’s ability to retain organic matter and nutrients, influences water absorption, and impacts chemical processes.
Worms contribute to weathering, a key factor in carbon dioxide cycling. They not only help sequester carbon into new minerals but also release carbon dioxide by breaking down organic material. New research presented at the Geological Society of America’s GSA Connects 2023 meeting showed that earthworms significantly contribute to silicate breakdown, particularly in soils like those in Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest.
Wackett’s team observed notable changes in soil sediment size due to earthworm burrowing, indicating that earthworms cause about 2 percent of total weathering in these soils, a potentially conservative estimate. Their spread into earthworm-free northern latitude forests, such as in Alaska, Minnesota, Finland, and Sweden, suggests an increase in weathering activities. The research underscores that earthworms, while small, contribute significantly to soil weathering processes on a larger scale.
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