The earthworm is certainly not an animal that many people pay attention to. Yet it is one of the most important living things on the planet. Without earthworms, in fact, the soil would not have characteristics suitable for plant growth. As a result, we would find it very difficult to cultivate our food. Moreover, they are a source of food for birds, moles, foxes, badgers and large insects. So they contribute directly to the survival of many other species. However, this species is now endangered due to climate change.
The earthworm is certainly not an animal that many people pay attention to. Yet it is one of the most important living things on the planet. Without earthworms, in fact, the soil would not have characteristics suitable for plant growth.
As a result, we would find it very difficult to cultivate our food.
The Role of Earthworms for the Environment
Already Darwin, in 1881, realised the importance of these small and simple animals. In fact, he questioned the existence of equally important species.
First of all, earthworms are a source of food for birds, moles, foxes, badgers and large insects. So they contribute directly to the survival of many other species. In addition, they are capable of modifying soil characteristics, creating new habitats for many other animals. The role of earthworms does not end there, however. In fact, they are considered “ecosystem engineers“. Through their work, they make life possible for all other organisms, including humans.
For example, they produce tunnels that improve soil structure and drainage. They then feed on organic matter, degrading it and making nutrients more available to plants. Trees and crops grow better in soils where the earthworm population is healthy and balanced. As a result, their presence guarantees us good harvests.
An Endangered Species Due to Climate Change
Unfortunately, climate change is threatening the survival of earthworms. This is bad as if these animals disappear, the soil as we know it may no longer exist.
For this reason, a group of 140 researchers recently conducted the largest study of earthworm distribution in the world. They analyzed data from nearly 700 locations in 57 different countries. The results, published in the journal Science, showed an earthworm distribution pattern opposite that of other animals and a great susceptibility of this species to climate change.
The biodiversity of these organisms was greater in temperate zones than in tropical ones. In addition, the global distribution depends on climatic factors such as rainfall and temperatures. Rising temperatures, droughts, flooding caused by floods and other phenomena due to the climate crisis obviously also affect earthworms, as well as other animal and plant species.
These consequences are unpredictable because climate change leads to different conditions in different parts of the planet. In any case, researchers think that most earthworm populations could decrease drastically. The effects of climate change could lead to their disappearance in some areas of the Earth or to their replacement by other species that are less useful for the soil.
Through this study, researchers hope to draw attention to the world beneath our feet. In fact, it is crucial for the environment and for the survival of plants and animals – including humans.