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It’s not just about the bees – earthworms need love, too


From The Guardian: A recent scientific study has found that 42% of fields in Britain surveyed by farmers were seriously deficient in earthworms; in some fields they were missing altogether. Particularly hard-hit were deep-burrowing worms, which are valuable in helping soil collect and store rainwater, but were absent from 16% of fields in the study.

Jules Howard, The Guardian

If earthworms had feathers, wings or fur, or eyes that looked mournful – or eyes at all – perhaps they would fare better in the public’s affections. This is a clutch of species facing as much pressure from the ecological abuse of their habitats as any other – yet unlike, say, bees (which have their own UN day of celebration today), the decline of worms rarely makes the news. This is a shame. We need to talk more about worms. The health of our earth may depend on it.

Earthworms are not doing very well at the moment. This year, a scientific study found that 42% of fields surveyed by farmers were seriously deficient in earthworms; in some fields they were missing altogether. Particularly hard-hit were deep-burrowing worms, which are valuable in helping soil collect and store rainwater, but were absent from 16% of fields in the study.

The cause of these earthworm declines? The usual. An overstretched environment, creaking at its seams from the demands of modern Homo sapiens. But you may not have heard about the worrying impact on earthworms because … well, this is basically an organism with a mouth and an anus and that’s about it.

I would argue that, even with this anatomical simplicity, worms have more charm and charisma than many politicians or Instagroan influencers – and more to offer us. If the needs of earthworms are met, the land becomes, as if by magic, more fertile. Though modern farming practices are contributing to worms’ decline, farmers are, encouragingly, coming to understand that worms are allies, not enemies.

This is one of many reasons why we need to keep flying the flag for worms. Though we share very little with these organisms, we do share a rocky planet that is covered in a sprinkling of soil that they churn up for us, mixing up the nutrients upon which many millions of species depend.

With almost every animal on Earth, we humans like to seek out the common ground, but with the earthworms it is different. They don’t share ground with us. Earthworms provide it.

RELATED RESEARCH PAPER

Critical Decline of Earthworms from Organic Origins under Intensive, Humic SOM-Depleting Agriculture
Robert J. Blakemore, Soil Systems Journal
Abstract: In view of recent reports of critical declines of microbes, plants, insects and other invertebrates, birds and other vertebrates, the situation pertaining to neglected earthworms was investigated. Entomological reports found the probable cause of general loss was lack of recruitment from surrounding fields (except for pest species). Earthworm decline under agricultural intensification compared to organic fertilizing is herein charted from several long-term agronomic trials, some operational >170 years. Relative biomass losses of –50–100% (with a mean of –83.3 %) match or exceed those reported for other faunal groups, thus earthworms are conclusively shown to be similarly depleted from their optima in agrichemical fields. Concomitant mean loss of SOC/SOM humus is –56.8% and soil moisture is reduced by –22.3%. Organic farming lessens humic degradation and topsoil erosion, conserves essential soil moisture and biota, and produces equivalent or higher crop and pasture yields (on average +17.8% in this study) at lower cost. Loss of earthworms adds weight for rational re-evaluation of viable means for food production compatible with environmental conservation (agroecology), hence various interlinked benefits of organic husbandry in terms of yields, soil restoration, biodiversity and economics are briefly discussed. Persistence with failing chemical agriculture makes neither ecological nor economic sense.

ALSO READ

The Insect Apocalypse: What does it mean for the rest of life on Earth?
The New York Times
The most disquieting thing wasn’t the disappearance of certain insect species; it was the deeper worry that a whole insect world might be quietly going missing, a loss of abundance that could alter the planet in unknowable ways. “We notice the losses,” says David Wagner. “It’s the diminishment that we don’t see.”

Vanishing act: Why insects are declining and why it matters
Christian Schwägerl, Yale Environment 360
According to data for 452 species, there has been a 45 percent decline in invertebrate populations over the past 40 years. So far, only the decline of honeybee populations has received attention, mostly because of their vital role in pollinating food crops. The rest of the insect world has been widely ignored.

Bees are disappearing in India – and we are slowly learning why
Scroll.in
Honeybees, which play a vital role in pollinating food crops, are declining at an alarming rate in India. It is not just pesticides that are contributing to their decline. Ironically, it might be the very efforts to promote bees in India that could be leading to a further decline in their diversity and prevalence.

Why do conservationists hide when the bees dwindle?
Urbashi Pradhan, Down to Earth
Although pests, diseases and pesticides have affected pollinators in a few pockets of the world, loss and fragmentation of natural habitats stand out as the single major reason for the decline in the abundance and diversity of pollinators. Studies show that with an increase in distance from natural vegetation, the diversity and abundance of pollinators declined drastically. General patterns across continents highlight the negative effect of habitat isolation on pollinators.

 

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