Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Could Earthworms Save the Climate?

Climate
Could Earthworms Save the Climate?

We know that earthworms are good for our gardens. When you turn over a spade full of rich soil and find it packed with the wiggly creatures, you know that your garden is going to grow strong and healthy. Vermicomposting—using worms to consume food scraps and turn them—has justifiably become all the rage.

When earthworms and other insects feast on the microbes, the process of decomposition emits less carbon.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

But now it appears earthworms can do more than just save your tomatoes and eggplants from struggling in poor soil. According to a new study, they could also be instrumental in saving the planet.

A new study published this week by a team of scientists from Yale University, the University of New Hampshire, the University of Helsinki in Finland and Institute of Microbiology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic suggest that earthworms could be important allies in the fight against climate change.

The study, Biotic Interactions Mediate Soil Microbial Feedbacks to Climate Change, in layman's terms, says that worms and other small animals that live in the soil feed on the microbes that ingest decaying matter, releasing carbon as they do so. When earthworms and other insects feast on the microbes, the process of decomposition emits less carbon. That's important because global warming causes warmer soil temperatures which stimulates the process of decay and creates more carbon emissions. Microbial carbon emissions could cause a temperature rise of 2-3 degrees Celsius in the next 100 years on their own, the study says, exceeding the 2 degree limit commonly set by climate experts as the maximum amount we can let the Earth warm before disastrous results occur. But earthworms slow the process down.

“Effectively, the microbes that live in the soil are responsible for producing 10 times more carbon emissions than even humans have produced,” said the study's lead author Thomas Crowther, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University. “That's the biggest flux of carbon into the atmosphere that there is on Earth.”

“The failure to incorporate animals and their interactions with microbial communities into global decomposition models has been highlighted as a critical limitation in our understanding of carbon cycling under current and future climate scenarios,” says the study.

Improving soil quality and combatting factors such as erosion and nutrient depletion have been proposed as solutions to hunger, but indirectly they may also be a solution to global warming. So should we start adding billions of worms to the soil? Probably not, says Crowther.

“It’s never really been considered as an approach to mitigate climate change before, because we didn’t know how complex the interactions were,” he says. "Now that we know, adding soil animals may be the kind of thing that could be a viable option, but a more realistic approach is to leave the ecosystem alone or cultivate natural biodiversity. Natural regeneration is the best way.”

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

3 Problems With Obama's Plan to Save the Bees

Droughts, Floods and Heatwaves: Blame It on Climate Change

3 Steps to a Zero-Carbon Future

Google Earth's latest feature allows you to watch the climate change in four dimensions.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Researchers say there's a growing epidemic of tap water distrust and disuse in the U.S. Teresa Short / Moment Open / Getty Images

By Asher Rosinger

Imagine seeing a news report about lead contamination in drinking water in a community that looks like yours. It might make you think twice about whether to drink your tap water or serve it to your kids – especially if you also have experienced tap water problems in the past.

Read More Show Less
Trending
A new report urges immediate climate action to control global warming. John W Banagan / Getty Images

A new report promoting urgent climate action in Australia has stirred debate for claiming that global temperatures will rise past 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next decade.

Read More Show Less
Winegrowers check vines during the burning of anti-frost candles in the Luneau-Papin wine vineyard in Le Landreau, near Nantes, western France, on April 12, 2021. SEBASTIEN SALOM-GOMIS / AFP via Getty Images

French winemakers are facing devastating grape loss from the worst frost in decades, preceded by unusually warm temperatures, highlighting the dangers to the sector posed by climate change.

Read More Show Less
A recent study focused on regions in Ethiopia, Africa's largest coffee-producing nation. Edwin Remsberg / Getty Images

Climate change could make it harder to find a good cup of coffee, new research finds. A changing climate might shrink suitable areas for specialty coffee production without adaptation, making coffee taste blander and impacting the livelihoods of small farms in the Global South.

Read More Show Less