5 Reasons Why Earthworms Are Essential In Saving The Planet [Video]By Mark Spencer, UniversityHerald Reporter
The lowly earthworm may not have that "cute appeal" of larger animals such as birds, gorillas, lions, tigers or even pandas. Though they may never be the face of a conservation effort or campaign, once they die out, we may not be far behind.
Charles Darwin rightly recognized that worm conservation is much more important once the aspect of "ecosystem services" is factored in, which are vital for human survival. According to IFLScience, Darwin spent 39 years studying earthworms for good reason. The National Geographic ranked the earthworm as the number one most influential species of all evolution.
The definition describes the earthworm as the species that has most changed life on Earth. Christopher Lloyd, a history scholar at Cambridge University, UK, agrees with Darwin that the earthworm is indeed the most influential species in the history of the planet.
However, why the earthworm, and not, say, the cute panda? Bear thought that ecologists consider the earthworm a "keystone species" due to their propensity in influencing the physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil.
Earthworms are natural recyclers
Through their unending appetite, they break down organic matter by constantly eating, and fertilize the soil by constant pooping. Earthworms poop about 1.5 times their body weight in a day. Their poop, known as "worm casts" is so full of nutrients and bacteria that are beneficial for plants. Scientists find worm casts has key nutrients five times more than that of surrounding soil.
Earthworms are "soil engineers"
As they move, their burrowing loosens the soil and mixes it up, in the process aerating and draining it. This action brings rich nutrients to the surface, thus making it more fertile and helping to prevent flooding and soil erosion.
Earthworms are protein-rich
Earthworms are an important food source for a number of animals. Though it could be an acquired taste, it is safe for humans to consume cultured earthworms too, and they can be used for traditional cures.
Earthworms are good barometers of soil health and toxicity
Earthworms are sensitive to soil pollutants and unwanted heavy metals. Their presence provides a useful tool in assessing the health of the soil.
Earthworms help restore damaged soil
They are a viable source in restoring human damaged soils by breaking down contamination due to heavy metals such as lead. Additionally, earthworms help clean up dangerous chemicals such as hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH). Researchers have found that bacteria living in the guts of worms breakdown (detoxify) many hazardous chemicals. There are still more benefits that earthworms can provide.
If pandas become extinct, it would be devastatingly sad. However, it would be more disastrous without earthworms in our soils. We would have less food, more pollution, and more flooding. The lowly earthworms do the dirty, but crucial work keeping us afloat.