Earthworms are known as ecosystem engineers due to their ability to structurally, chemically and biologically transform the soil environment in which they live.

Earthworm functions

The activity and behaviour of earthworms is beneficial for the provision of many soil ecosystem services, including:

  • Enhanced porosity improves soil hydrological functioning through better water infiltration and drainage
  • Enhanced porosity improves soil aeration and space for root growth
  • Decomposition of organic matter, allowing the release of plant-available nutrients
  • The incorporation of litter from the soil surface enhances soil organic carbon
  • Enhancing the activity of beneficial soil bacteria and fungi
  • The formation of soil aggregates, for better structure and quality 

Earthworm ecology

Earthworms are grouped into three ecotypes based on their morphology, ecology and burrowing behaviours.

These ecotypes are:

  • Anecic - The largest earthworm species are in this group. They create deep, vertical burrows in the soil, through which they bring fresh litter into from the soil surface
  • Endogeic - Move horizontally in the soil, creating networks of soil pores. 
  • Epigeic - Are the smallest of the earthworm species. Live and feed on the soil surface on leaf and plant litter.
  • Compost earthworms - Found in compost or warm and moist environments with a rich supply of compostable material. 


Follow Jackie Stroud on twitter @wormscience for great info and updates on worms


Related Organisations

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Connected Content

The intricate web of relationships between physical, chemical and biological soil components underpins crop and livestock health and productivity. Protecting soil health is also critical to environmental sustainability, as soils: • Exchange gases, such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides, with the atmosphere • Regulate the flow of water and rainfall in the water cycle • Provide nutrients for plant growth, by breaking down organic matter and altering chemical fertilisers • Transform and store organic materials, as part of the terrestrial carbon cycle • Degrade contaminants applied through human activities or left by floods and aerial deposition A healthy soil is able to sustain, in the long term, these important functions. In a healthy soil, the interactions between chemistry (pH, nutrients and contaminants), physics (soil structure and water balance) and biology (including earthworms, microbes and plant roots) are optimised for the conditions in that place.   View more from AHDB GREAT Soils. Share resources you find helpful below.

The soil health scorecard brings together information about the chemical, physical and biological properties of soil. Watch Anne Bhogal give an overview of the research that has gone in to the Soil Health Scorecard.

Farmer Innovation Group as part of YEN Yield Testing project on achieving Deeper Rooting. Encouragement of deep burrowing earthworms might enhance yields by enabling deeper rooting, and capture of more sub-soil water.

Soil biology includes a variety of soil microbes, bacteria and larger fauna such as earthworms and collembolans.

Group coming out of the YEN looking at ways to increase deep rooting, by encouraging deep burrowing earthworms.

Guide from AHDB Great Soils on how to identify and count earthworms

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