Wriggly worms!

The Wilderness on the Whiteknights Campus is home to lots of majestic trees, beautiful plants, bizarre insects and secretive animals; but what about life below ground?  The soil contains a huge amount of biodiversity, from the multitude of microscopic organisms we cannot see with the naked eye, to meso and macro-fauna.

To illustrate this, there is not just one species of earthworm on Campus – when you delve in to the dark depths of the soil in the Wilderness you might find Lumbricus rubellus (European earthworm), Lumbricus terrestris (Common earthworm), Allolobophora longa, Aporectodea caliginosa, Aporectodea icterica, Aporectodea rosea or Apporectodea chlorotica.

Earthworms have really important environmental functions.  Some earthworms make permanent vertical burrows in the soil and drag leaves from the soil surface deeper in to the soil, moving organic matter deeper.  These are known as Anecic earthworms and they are usually the largest species in the UK. Other earthworms (Endogeic earthworms) make horizontal burrows through the soil that they feed on.  Some of these burrows can be quite deep.  The last set of earthworms are Epigeic earthworms which feed on and live in the leaf litter.  The combination of these three types of earthworms is very important for the soil; it can affect its aeration (how much pore space it has), how freely draining it is and how easily nutrients are leached from it.

In addition to soil structure, earthworms are also important in fragmenting organic matter.  They eat it along with sand particles from the soil; this mixture is then ground together in their gizzard to break up the plant litter and other organic matter.  In the process, earthworm mucus also activates dormant microbes in the soil which has been ingested.  These microbes then cause breakdown of the organic matter and release of inorganic nutrients for plant use.

For more information on Earthworms, visit the Earthworm Society of Britain website.

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