New Study Reveals That Earthworms Accelerate Global Warming

by , 02/06/13

nature journal, earthworms, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, climate change, US study, soil,Photo via Shutterstock

In 2011, we published a story that non-native earthworms were a threat to the US as they were releasing more carbon into the atmosphere. Now a new Dutch/US study has revealed that it’s not just non-native earthworms that accelerate carbon release, but ALL earthworms. However, the report, which was published in the Nature journal, states that it is not so much the earthworms’ fault, but the soil in which they live.

nature journal, earthworms, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, climate change, US study, soil,

The study, which was written by researchers in Holland, the United States and Colombia, looked at the results of 237 separate experiments from other published studies to explore earthworms’ role in global greenhouse gas emissions and the results were surprising. They discovered that approximately 20% of global carbon dioxide emissions and two-thirds of nitrous oxide emissions came directly from soil due to the large number of natural biological processes that occur in the ground.

The problem is that as earthworms burrow in the soil, they make it more porous. They also interact with the microbes that produce the bulk of carbon dioxide emissions, causing it all to be released into the atmosphere. In short, as the earthworm population grows (which it is), so does the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. An added drawback is that earthworms produce nitrous oxide in their guts. Overall, the science team found that the presence of earthworms in soil increased nitrous oxide emissions by 42% and carbon dioxide emissions by 33%.

“Earthworms play an essential part in determining the greenhouse-gas balance of soils worldwide,” the report said. “Our results suggest that although earthworms are largely beneficial to soil fertility, they increase net soil greenhouse-gas emissions.”

“Over the next few decades, earthworm presence is likely to increase in ecosystems worldwide. For example, large parts of North American forest soils are now being invaded by earthworms for the first time since the last glaciation”.


Images:  Dodo-Bird and goosmurf

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  1. obviouslytad February 27, 2013 at 11:25 am

    This seems like it could be taken out of context and motivate a federal agenda to sterilize and eradicate the fundamental underlying organisms that make life on planet earth possible. Let’s hope not.

  2. socalarch February 7, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Sensationalism!!! Worms are decomposers along with bacteria, fungi, microbes etc.
    It’s called THE CARBON CYCLE.
    Why not just educate people on how our earth functions via the carbon cycle and where worms are within that natural cycle.
    It is journalism (if we can call it that) like this that will have the pseudo-ecologicals killing off their compost piles.

  3. Joe Brockhaus February 7, 2013 at 11:52 am

    I think this is a bit misleading, right?

    Fossil Fuels pumping out C02 is bad because it’s C02 that’s been sequestered over millions of years.

    The C02 that the soil, by way of worms and other processes, are part of the ‘normal’ temporal processes that circulate C02, etc in the ecosystem.

    AFAICT, this study did not find that all the EXTRA C02 we’re releasing from fossils fuels is increasing the rate at which earthworm populations are growing – just that they are increasing.

    That said, I could see how a century of increased amounts of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere would in turn result in more sequestration, which would result in more detritus and so more food for the worms and other microbes.

  4. bthinker February 7, 2013 at 1:06 am

    Also maybe some nitrogen fixing legumes present could help this issue.. oh wait nature stuff rarely grows now..

  5. bthinker February 7, 2013 at 1:05 am

    If you’re going to blame worms for their action in breaking down matter, you have to also blame fungi, antyhing that digest, anything that breathes, anything that effects any cycle we’ve botched,So pretty much everything. Mankind needs to stop digging up fossil fuels, nat gas, coal,sulfur, ect. We’re dooming ourselves, all we know, all life on the earth. We’re looking at a 8-11F increase globally by 2040 if we procede at the current planned course. That to anyone with half a brain this is suicide. People need to let go of all the arbitrary artificiallities they call a life as a consumer and advance to a more symbiotic course with nature. At the moment we’re all accelerating for a wall it has to change. Or they’ll learn their expedience cost them everything they appreciated, family, friends, air, nature, the world.

  6. ToeKnee Clarke February 6, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    Let’s see…
    The human make the planet warmer, lower lands submerge but ice locked lands emerge, giving all earthworms the opportunity to overpopulate and wreak havoc on the environment…
    My word to humanity: Take a bunch of earthworms fishing everyday!!!

  7. ta! February 6, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    If earthworms are killing our planet… what are we (humans) doing???

  8. Tiffany Harris February 6, 2013 at 10:52 am

    “However, the report, which was published in the Nature journal, states that it is not so much the earthworms’ fault, but the soil in which they live.”

    It couldn’t possibly be from the pollution could it? Heaven forbid we blame our own species for the balance of nature.

    Worms break down organics so that plants can grow, but of course we need the land for our farms and wastelands so the trees that use up the carbon, are cut down for our many uses.

    Anyone with half a brain would know that…

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