Help From Below
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Most gardeners know how important worms are to ensure healthy soil for healthy plants: They help decompose dead plant material to release nutrients for plants to grow, and contribute to the fight against common soil pathogens.
But these days, the invertebrates are under constant threat by modern agricultural techniques and the use of toxic pesticides.
A research team has now studied how important earthworms are to the global production of key crops such as grain and legumes, and found that they play an integral role, prompting scientists to call for better conservation, Agence France-Presse reported.
To arrive at this conclusion, scientists analyzed maps of earthworm populations, soil properties, crop yields and previous papers on plant productivity. Their findings showed that earthworms contribute to around 6.5 percent of the world’s annual grain production, including wheat, rice and maize.
That figure was more than two percent in legumes, which includes peas, soybeans and lentils.
“Their contribution may even be larger,” said co-author Steven Fonte.
Fonte and his team explained that the worms’ role has been deeply underestimated, adding that there is not enough research done on their populations in the global south.
While the study mainly uses data points from Europe and North America, researchers claimed that their findings represent one of the first attempts to quantify the contribution of a beneficial soil organism to global agricultural production.
They hope that more research could alter agricultural and environmental policies to support earthworm populations and soil biodiversity.
“Soils are estimated to contain approximately half of all biodiversity on the planet and are incredibly important for biodiversity conservation efforts,” noted Fonte.