New Study Suggests that Earthworms Contribute to Global Warming

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Sacramento Dave
Sacramento Dave's picture

" Earthworms are long revered for their beneficial role in soil fertility, but with the good comes the bad: they also increase greenhouse gas emissions from soils, according to a study published Feb. 3 in Nature Climate Change by a research team that includes a University of California, Davis, soil scientist.

The team found that earthworms do not, as was suspected, stimulate carbon sequestration in the soil, which helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, they actually increase greenhouse gas emissions through a variety of ways.

“There was a hypothesis that earthworms were having a positive effect on the greenhouse balance, but they don’t,” said co-author Johan Six, a plant sciences professor at UC Davis during the study who is now a professor at ETH Zurich in Switzerland. “I would never say you have to take out the earthworms because of greenhouse gases. It’s just that you cannot give them credit for reducing greenhouse gases.”

The scientific team was led by Jan Willen van Groenigen of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and, along with UC Davis, included colleagues from Trinity College Dublin, and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Cali, Colombia.

The team gathered all relevant published research to date: 57 different experiments.

The research team then employed a statistical technique called meta-analysis to discern overall patterns in the data.

They found that the presence of earthworms increased nitrous oxide emissions from soil by 42 percent and carbon dioxide emissions from soil by 33 percent. But they found no indications that earthworms affect soil organic carbon stocks — the carbon stored within the soil.

According to the researchers, earthworms likely increase greenhouse gas emissions several ways: they mix organic plant residues in the soil, which may increase decomposition and carbon dioxide emissions; the earthworm gut acts as a microbial incubator, boosting the activity of nitrous oxide-producing microbes; and the earthworms, by burrowing through the soil, make it easier for greenhouse gases in the soil to escape into the atmosphere.

Small changes in soil greenhouse gas dynamics can have important repercussions for global warming, the researchers said. But lead author Ingrid Lubbers from Wageningen University said it is not yet clear to what extent the effects of earthworms on plant growth may negate earthworm-induced increases in greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our literature search also pointed out a large gap in the published studies,” Lubbers said. “We need more experiments that include growing plants, as well as more long-term studies and more field studies before we can decide to what extent global worming leads to global warming.”  "

( SOURCE:  )


Sacramento Dave
Sacramento Dave's picture
Personally, I don't buy the

Personally, I don't buy the arguement that because earthworms emit small amounts of certain greenhouse gases , the result is a net increase in greenhouse gases in  the atmosphere.  I love earthworms.  They help break down decaying plant matter and compost, and aerate the soil so that both the soil and the plants that grow in the soil are healthier.  Healthier plants convert more carbon dioxide to naturally sequstered carbon in the form of plant tissue and as a byproduct, release oxygen.  So it stands to reason that earthworms contribute to improved plant health and healthier plants help to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

MrsBJLee's picture
Personally I have to agree

Personally I have to agree with you however, I do wonder what the end result of this study was supposed to do for us? If the earthworms were putting out too much greenhouse gas by themselves would we then consider taking lazers to the ground to kill them all? I just don't see why this study was so important and I am sure there was a lot of money spent on it. I would have rather seen the funds spent on clean energy research or wilderness and wildlife conservation.

hans nel
KILL THE WORMS!   Or lets try

KILL THE WORMS!   Or lets try to do something about the human carbon emissions.

studies like these are meant

studies like these are meant to divert your attention to the real problem of greenhoue gasses. Yes  biological activity do emit tremendous amount of greenhouse gasses to the tune of  439,000 million metric tonne a year. Vulcanic activity only emits 130-230 million metric tonne a year.  But nature has the ability to cycle all that CO2 and some being emitted through photosynthesis and other means. Nature has means to sink 450,000 million metric tonne.

What is troubling is that nature has not accounted for humans spewing out additional 30,000 million metric tonne of CO2 into the air. "Accounting" meaning nature has not added additional means to seuqester the CO2 (CO2 sink).

Simply, this kind of study is look over there over there not here. Look that's a big problem over there its not us. So next time someone mentions another favorite topic of vulcano, tell them they account less than 1% of what human spews out in a year. Another is bovine waste. Well if people were not raising cattle (bovine), world have lot less bovine so their waste is also the result of man's activity. STOP EATING MEAT!! is what you could say. Oh then there is termite activity. They are part of the natural CO2 emission count. so a moot point.

Figure of CO2 comes from

Capital1's picture
Wouldn't a better study be

Wouldn't a better study be named:

"New Study Suggests that Everything Contributes to Climate Change"

organican's picture
The most destructive worms I

The most destructive worms I know of are located in Washington DC and Wall street.

Six post, and nobody has tied

Six post, and nobody has tied these worms to some vast right wing plot to destroy the earth.  At the very least, they must be part of some Bush/Cheney criminal activity.  Perhaps they are even part of a grass roots (heh, get it, grass roots...) effort to shift the jet stream.  So disapointed at the slackers.

This topic reminded me of one

This topic reminded me of one covered in a post from November of last year: 

Does vegetarianism help keep carbon emissions low?

Of course, cows and other livestock that humans raise for the food supply and for other products are larger contributors (literally and probably figuratively) contributors of carbon emissions than earthworms.

I'm not sure how much government money if any went towards the 50+ earthworm studies mentioned above.  If any did, i can see the climate change deniers and the "shrink gubmint til i can drown it in a bathtub" crowd will hold this up as a reason why billionaires should not pay their fair share of taxes.

Remember that many times in the past studying something small has led to major health breakthroughs in the field of medicine and in other disciplines.  

Redwing's picture


ABCee's picture


MONSANTO - GMO super-worms attack Midwest Corn Crops

Sacramento Dave
Sacramento Dave's picture
The GMO super-worms are not

The GMO super-worms are not actually earthworms, but caterpillar / larvae for the "corn earworm moth".   Of course most of the time that either chemicals or GM means are widely used to control agricultural pests, (or diseases for that matter, ) it  only takes time until the pest or disease develops resistance to that chemical or GM strain.  Nature will always do it's best to fight back. 

Unfortuntely since we have introduced global warming which may soon pass the tipping point and become runaway climate change: nature's way of fighting back may be to allow life as we know it to die off and become extinct.  Then, it's anyone's guess what kind of life forms will develop to survive in the delicate balance we have destroyed.

Redwing's picture
Calm down and give mother

Calm down and give mother nature credit.  She is far more powerful than anything man has ever created.

True. Mother Nature can undo

True. Mother Nature can undo it all. When any species destroys its habitat, Mother Nature simply disposes of it and moves on.

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disease"

Redwing wrote: Calm down and

Redwing wrote:

Calm down and give mother nature credit.  She is far more powerful than anything man has ever created.

I figure beck and the other survivalist dirt bag fear mongers peddling over priced crap in the media and on the interwebs to gullible people have some books for sale that contain a few good recipes for cooking cockroaches.  Convenient, since the cockroaches may be the last remaining source of protein, other than any unlucky human survivors themselves. 

So, yeah, don't worry, be happy ... you'll be ok.

Redwing's picture
I don't think Glenn Beck

I don't think Glenn Beck worries about the end of the world.  He focuses more on the end of what he considers the breakdown of our society.  He doesn't need a recepie for cooking cockroaches, he has a great selection of hunting rifles and the knowledge to use them to feed himself.  Read meat on the table is a good thing.


  "Vegetarianism is an American Indian word for , "Lousey hunters"

The only thing beck worries

The only thing beck worries about is people getting wise to his Howard Beal act, and that the sheep will stop buying the schlock he peddles and pay no more attention to his show or books or other properties he gets the suckers to buy.

Big problem is what he considers to be the breakdown of society is a lot of made up or exaggerated crap meant to help him sell junk. I bet he learned that from watching Bush and his bloated DHS and from reading Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine".

Fear sells stuff. 

Have fun hunting animals that have gone extinct because their food supply has become a victim of climate change.  You better hope beck has some good recipes for "bone soup".

MrsBJLee's picture
What animals are left after

What animals are left after we've squeezed them out of their habitat will likely be hunted and poached to extinction and climate change will just finish the job.

Redwing's picture
Good on Mother Nature.  The

Good on Mother Nature.  The world needs could use an enema.