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


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Soil health has been broken down into measurable parts to help farmers optimise crop and grassland productivity. As part of the Soil Biology and Soil Health Partnership, a project in the AHDB & BBRO GREAT Soils programme, guidance and protocols have been issued to help practitioners benchmark their soils

The intricate web of relationships between physical, chemical and biological soil components underpins crop and livestock health and productivity.

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Results from an Innovative Farmers Field Lab with University of Lincoln and Anglian Water showed benefits from drilling rather than broadcasting to establish a catch crop.   

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.

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

Warwick Crop Centre is a national centre of excellence for research on fresh produce. We provide post-graduate training and specialise in research projects promoting sustainable agriculture, horticulture and food security.

Counting earthworms is a simple method for assessing soil biological health

Earthworms are an excellent indicator of soil health given their many crucial roles and sensitivity to issues such as low pH, compaction, water logging and intensive cultivations.

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

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