Climate change researchers find new foe: Earthworms

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While global leaders fret about carbon taxes and redistribution of wealth to developing countries, a new study suggests that not just humans, but earthworms contribute to global warming in a significant way, with populations set to boom in the next couple of decades.

In the new study, published in Nature Climate Change, researchers in Holland, the United States and Colombia compiled the results of 237 separate experiments from other published studies to explore earthworms’ role in global greenhouse gas emissions, The Guardian reports.

The researchers found that the presence of earthworms in soil increased nitrous oxide emissions by 42 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 33 percent, but since worms can produce one while reducing the other, they found earthworms increased the global warming potential of soils by 16 percent overall.

“Earthworms play an essential part in determining the greenhouse-gas balance of soils worldwide, and their influence is expected to grow over the next decades,” the study reads. ” … Earthworm presence is likely to increase in ecosystems worldwide. For example, large parts of North American forest soils are now being invaded by earthworms for the first time since the last glaciation.”

The growing use of organic fertilizers will provide more food for earthworms, the study says, and will contribute to the population increases. The increase in earthworms worldwide, in turn, would most likely negatively affect the earth’s climate, but habitat degradation and species invasions could help in population control.

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