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Earthworms suppress fungal diseases in the soil © pfly (Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0 license)

Earthworms are known as farmers’ best friends because of the multitude of services they provide that improve soil health and consequently plant health. The density of earthworms in the soil is considered to be a good indicator of a healthy soil because they improve many soil attributes like structure, water holding capacity, moisture content etc., and also increase nutrient availability and degrade pesticide residues. As scientists understand these ‘ecosystem services’ provided by earthworms, they discover that this earthworm-farmer friendship is a lot deeper than previously imagined!

The soil, in addition to being the habitat for crops, also nurtures other organisms, some of which can cause devastating diseases to plants. Research indicates that earthworm-composted organic matter, also called vermicompost, has disease suppressive properties. Elmer, in 2009 published findings that earthworms suppress soil-borne diseases in different vegetables by nearly 50-70 % and attributed this to the ability of earthworms to increase the activity of beneficial microorganisms. Wolfarth et al., further studied an earthworm species, Lumbricus terrestris, that preferentially incorporates Fusarium-infected wheat straw into the soil. Fusarium spp. causes a disease called Fusarium Head Blight on wheat that in addition to direct yield losses produces a mycotoxin called deoxynivalenol (DON), toxic to humans and animals. The researchers found that this particular earthworm reduces the fungal biomass and DON concentration in infected wheat straw, a finding particularly useful in minimally tilled wheat fields where the infected straw can remain on the soil surface for a long time. Thus, as it turns out, these farmers’ friends can directly reduce disease outbreaks by reducing the source of the disease i.e., infected crop residue.

Agricultural practices like tillage and pesticide use are known to adversely affect earthworm populations in the soil. These findings reinforce the importance of better appreciating the delicate inter-relatedness in an agricultural ecosystem while trying to develop crop management strategies.

Reference:

Wade H. Elmer (2009). Influence of Earthworm Activity on Soil Microbes and Soilborne Diseases of Vegetables Plant Disease DOI: 10.1094/PDIS-93-2-0175

Friederike Wolfartha, Stefan Schradera, Elisabeth Oldenburgb, Joachim Weinertc, & Joachim Brunotted (2011). Earthworms promote the reduction of Fusarium biomass and deoxynivalenol content in wheat straw under field conditions Soil Biology and Biochemistry DOI: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2011.05.002

ResearchBlogging.org

14 Comments

  1. Aditya wadichar on 19th January 2014 at 8:02 am

    good imformation

    • cibarani on 28th July 2017 at 5:28 pm

      In here, we’re unfortunately seeing less and less earthworms in our farms…what a damage!

      • Ryan Broookes on 22nd September 2017 at 6:20 am

        Same here in Mahad, MH.

  2. Plantwise 2013 Highlights | The Plantwise Blog on 31st January 2014 at 3:54 pm

    […] Earthworm-farmer friendship, redefined […]

  3. P.k.kibinge on 9th January 2016 at 8:11 pm

    This is wonderful and worthy to reckon. During the start of the ongoing Elonino rains i flooded my maize farm with wet biogas discharge.but to my surprise a week later the soils beneath were full of this red worms. My wife complained bittery since se thought i had infected the soils with incredible soil pests. Two weeks later she was jubiliant and inviting almost every passerby to witness her heathy darkgreen maize plant which were the envy of all neighbourhood . She has now vowed never to entertain commercial fertilizers in her farm. Let every farmer understand that this red earthworms are better friends than many of their human friends who they confind in

  4. Ryan Broookes on 22nd September 2017 at 6:22 am

    Does anyone know why earthworms are not as common as they used to be? Please let me know.
    Thank you.

  5. RAJAN on 2nd November 2017 at 1:52 pm

    yes earthworms is really best friend of farmers

  6. AB Mehta Negz on 18th December 2017 at 7:18 pm

    thanks for this useful detailed information

  7. Ryan shekhar on 26th January 2018 at 10:49 am

    It is good not bad

  8. Gavas Adieku on 4th September 2018 at 11:26 am

    they are realy very good

  9. […] the fertility of the soil and therefore play a key role in sustainability. They are also known as farmer’s friend, ploughman of the field, intestines of the earth, ecological engineers, and biological indicators. […]

  10. Plantwise Most Read 2018 – The Plantwise Blog on 10th December 2018 at 11:01 am

    […] Earthworm-farmer friendship, redefined (2012) […]

  11. Radha Dahal on 7th January 2019 at 12:30 pm

    Thank you very much for this beautiful and interesting facts about earthworms. So the benefits of earthworm is written very beautifully.

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