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Concept: Lumbricus terrestris


A new Italian earthworm morphologically close to the similarly large and anecic Eophila tellinii (Rosa, 1888) is described. Distribution of Eophila crodabepis sp. nov. extends over 750 km2 from East to West on the Asiago Plateau and Vittorio Veneto Hills, from North to South on mounts Belluno Prealps (Praderadego and Cesen), Asiago, Grappa and onto the Montello foothills. This range abuts that of Eophila tellinii in northern Friuli Venezia Giulia region. Known localities of both E. tellinii and E.crodabepis sp. nov. are mapped. mtDNA barcoding definitively separates the new western species from classical Eophila tellinii (Rosa, 1888).

Concepts: Italy, Veneto, Earthworm, Lumbricus terrestris, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trieste, Alpine foothills, Foothills


Herbicide use is increasing worldwide both in agriculture and private gardens. However, our knowledge of potential side-effects on non-target soil organisms, even on such eminent ones as earthworms, is still very scarce. In a greenhouse experiment, we assessed the impact of the most widely used glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup on two earthworm species with different feeding strategies. We demonstrate, that the surface casting activity of vertically burrowing earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) almost ceased three weeks after herbicide application, while the activity of soil dwelling earthworms (Aporrectodea caliginosa) was not affected. Reproduction of the soil dwellers was reduced by 56% within three months after herbicide application. Herbicide application led to increased soil concentrations of nitrate by 1592% and phosphate by 127%, pointing to potential risks for nutrient leaching into streams, lakes, or groundwater aquifers. These sizeable herbicide-induced impacts on agroecosystems are particularly worrisome because these herbicides have been globally used for decades.

Concepts: Soil, Aquifer, Irrigation, Earthworm, Lumbricidae, Herbicide, Roundup, Lumbricus terrestris


The synthesis of designer solid-state materials by living organisms is an emerging field in bio-nanotechnology. Key examples include the use of engineered viruses as templates for cobalt oxide (Co(3)O(4)) particles, superparamagnetic cobalt-platinum alloy nanowires and gold-cobalt oxide nanowires for photovoltaic and battery-related applications. Here, we show that the earthworm’s metal detoxification pathway can be exploited to produce luminescent, water-soluble semiconductor cadmium telluride (CdTe) quantum dots that emit in the green region of the visible spectrum when excited in the ultraviolet region. Standard wild-type Lumbricus rubellus earthworms were exposed to soil spiked with CdCl(2) and Na(2)TeO(3) salts for 11 days. Luminescent quantum dots were isolated from chloragogenous tissues surrounding the gut of the worm, and were successfully used in live-cell imaging. The addition of polyethylene glycol on the surface of the quantum dots allowed for non-targeted, fluid-phase uptake by macrophage cells.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cadmium, Solar cell, Earthworm, Lumbricidae, Annelids, Lumbricus terrestris


Remediation soil is exposed to various environmental factors over time that can affect the final success of the operation. In the present study, we assessed Pb bioaccessibility and microbial activity in industrially polluted soil (Arnoldstein, Austria) stabilized with 5% (w/w) of Slovakite and 5% (w/w) of apatite soil after exposure to two earthworm species, Lumbricus terrestris and Dendrobaena veneta, used as model environmental biotic soil factors. Stabilization resulted in reduced Pb bioaccessibility, as assessed with one-step extraction tests and six-step sequential extraction, and improved soil functioning, mirrored in reduced β-glucosidase activity in soil. Both earthworm species increased Pb bioaccessibility, thus decreasing the initial stabilization efficacy and indicating the importance of considering the long-term fate of remediated soil. The earthworm species had different effects on soil enzyme activity, which can be attributed to species-specific microbial populations in earthworm gut acting on the ingested soil.

Concepts: Time, Enzyme, Soil contamination, Earthworm, Lumbricidae, Annelids, Lumbricus terrestris, Oligochaeta


Despite great general benefits derived from plastic use, accumulation of plastic material in ecosystems, and especially microplastic, is becoming an increasing environmental concern. Microplastic has been extensively studied in aquatic environments, with very few studies focusing on soils. We here tested the idea that microplastic particles (polyethylene beads) could be transported from the soil surface down the soil profile via earthworms. We used Lumbricus terrestris L., an anecic earthworm species, in a factorial greenhouse experiment with four different microplastic sizes. Presence of earthworms greatly increased the presence of microplastic particles at depth (we examined 3 soil layers, each 3.5 cm deep), with smaller PE microbeads having been transported downward to a greater extent. Our study clearly shows that earthworms can be significant transport agents of microplastics in soils, incorporating this material into soil, likely via casts, burrows (affecting soil hydraulics), egestion and adherence to the earthworm exterior. This movement has potential consequences for exposure of other soil biota to microplastics, for the residence times of microplastic at greater depth, and for the possible eventual arrival of microplastics in the groundwater.

Concepts: Soil, Earthworm, Lumbricidae, Lumbricus terrestris, Oligochaeta


Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is the most abundant source of microplastic pollution worldwide. A recent study found that LDPE decay was increased and the size of the plastic was decreased after passing through the gut of the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris (Oligochaeta). Here, we investigated the involvement of earthworm gut bacteria in the microplastic decay. The bacteria isolated from the earthworm’s gut were Gram-positive, belonging to phylum Actinobacteria and Firmicutes. These bacteria were used in a short-term microcosm experiment performed with gamma-sterilized soil with or without LDPE microplastics (MP). We observed that the LDPE-MP particle size was significantly reduced in the presence of bacteria. In addition, the volatile profiles of the treatments were compared and clear differences were detected. Several volatile compounds such as octadecane, eicosane, docosane and tricosane were measured only in the treatments containing both bacteria and LDPE-MP, indicating that these long-chain alkanes are byproducts of bacterial LDPE-MP decay.

Concepts: Bacteria, Gut flora, Earthworm, Lumbricidae, Firmicutes, Actinobacteria, Lumbricus terrestris, Oligochaeta


The adoption of less intensive soil cultivation practices is expected to increase earthworm populations and their contributions to ecosystem functioning. However, conflicting results have been reported on the effects of tillage intensity on earthworm populations, attributed in narrative reviews to site-dependent differences in soil properties, climatic conditions, and agronomic operations (e.g., fertilization, residue management and chemical crop protection). We present a quantitative review based on a global meta-analysis, using paired observations from 215 studies performed over 65 years (1950-2016) across 40 countries on five continents, to elucidate this long-standing unresolved issue. Results showed that disturbing the soil less (e.g., no-tillage and Conservation Agriculture) significantly increased earthworm abundance (mean increase of 137% and 127%, respectively) and biomass (196% and 101%, respectively) compared to when the soil is inverted by conventional ploughing. Earthworm population responses were more pronounced when the soil had been under reduced tillage for a long time (>10 years), in warm temperate zones with fine-textured soils, and in soils with higher clay contents (>35%) and low pH (<5.5). Furthermore, retaining organic harvest residues amplified this positive response to reduced tillage, whereas the use of the herbicide glyphosate did not significantly affect earthworm population responses to reduced tillage. Additional meta-analyses confirmed that epigeic and, more importantly, the bigger-sized anecic earthworms, were the most sensitive ecological groups to conventional tillage. In particular, the deep burrower Lumbricus terrestris exhibited the strongest positive response to reduced tillage, increasing in abundance by 124% more than the overall mean of all 13 species analysed individually. The restoration of these two important ecological groups of earthworms and their burrowing, feeding and casting activities under various forms of reduced tillage will ensure the provision of ecosystem functions such as soil structure maintenance and nutrient cycling by "nature's plough". This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Agriculture, Ecology, Climate, Soil, Earthworm, Lumbricidae, Lumbricus terrestris, Tillage


Seed dressing with pesticides is widely used to protect crop seeds from pest insects and fungal diseases. While there is mounting evidence that especially neonicotinoid seed dressings detrimentally affect insect pollinators, surprisingly little is known on potential side effects on soil biota. We hypothesized that soil organisms would be particularly susceptible to pesticide seed dressings as they get in direct contact with these chemicals. Using microcosms with field soil we investigated, whether seeds treated either with neonicotinoid insecticides or fungicides influence the activity and interaction of earthworms, collembola, protozoa and microorganisms. The full-factorial design consisted of the factor Seed dressing (control vs. insecticide vs. fungicide), Earthworm (no earthworms vs. addition Lumbricus terrestris L.) and collembola (no collembola vs. addition Sinella curviseta Brook). We used commercially available wheat seed material (Triticum aesticum L. cf. Lukullus) at a recommended seeding density of 367 m(-2).

Concepts: Bacteria, Plant, Sulfur, Seed, Insecticide, Lumbricidae, Imidacloprid, Lumbricus terrestris


In spite of the high relevance of lumbricid earthworms (‘Oligochaeta’: Lumbricidae) for soil structure and functioning, the taxonomy of this group of terrestrial invertebrates remains in a quasi-chaotic state. Earthworm taxonomy traditionally relies on the interpretation of external and internal morphological characters, but the acquisition of these data is often hampered by tedious dissections or restricted access to valuable and rare museum specimens. The present state of affairs, in conjunction with the difficulty of establishing primary homologies for multiple morphological features, has led to an almost unrivaled instability in the taxonomy and systematics of certain earthworm groups, including Lumbricidae. As a potential remedy, we apply for the first time a non-destructive imaging technique to lumbricids and explore the future application of this approach to earthworm taxonomy. High-resolution micro-computed tomography (μCT) scanning of freshly fixed and museum specimens was carried out using two cosmopolitan species, Aporrectodea caliginosa and A. trapezoides. By combining two-dimensional and three-dimensional dataset visualization techniques, we demonstrate that the morphological features commonly used in earthworm taxonomy can now be analyzed without the need for dissection, whether freshly fixed or museum specimens collected more than 60 years ago are studied. Our analyses show that μCT in combination with soft tissue staining can be successfully applied to lumbricid earthworms. An extension of the approach to other families is poised to strengthen earthworm taxonomy by providing a versatile tool to resolve the taxonomic chaos currently present in this ecologically important, but taxonomically neglected group of terrestrial invertebrates.

Concepts: Biology, Taxonomy, Earthworm, Lumbricidae, Lumbricus terrestris, Oligochaeta, Systematics, Haplotaxida


Plastic debris is widespread in the environment, but information on the effects of microplastics on terrestrial fauna is completely lacking. Here, we studied the survival and fitness of the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris (Oligochaeta, Lumbricidae) exposed to microplastics (Polyethylene, <150 μm) in litter at concentrations of 7, 28, 45, and 60% dry weight, percentages that, after bioturbation, translate to 0.2 to 1.2% in bulk soil. Mortality after 60 days was higher at 28, 45, and 60% of microplastics in the litter than at 7% w/w and in the control (0%). Growth rate was significantly reduced at 28, 45, and 60% w/w microplastics, compared to the 7% and control treatments. Due to the digestion of ingested organic matter, microplastic was concentrated in cast, especially at the lowest dose (i.e., 7% in litter) because that dose had the highest proportion of digestible organic matter. Whereas 50 percent of the microplastics had a size of <50 μm in the original litter, 90 percent of the microplastics in the casts was <50 μm in all treatments, which suggests size-selective egestion by the earthworms. These concentration-transport and size-selection mechanisms may have important implications for fate and risk of microplastic in terrestrial ecosystems.

Concepts: Animal, Concentration, Ecosystem, Earthworm, Lumbricidae, Lumbricus terrestris, Oligochaeta, Haplotaxida