Earthworms living in conventional farm soils spend more energy ‘detoxing’

Photo credit: Pfly Photo credit: Pfly

Earthworms are an integral part of healthy soils. A study published in Soil Biology and Biochemistry compared earthworms from organic soils to those living in soils that had been conventionally farmed for over 20 years and treated with the fungicide epoxiconazole. Researchers found that earthworms exposed to the fungicide had adapted to the toxin by developing ways to ‘detox’ as evidenced by increases in their metabolism, the rate at which they shed their skin, and increases in burrowing activity when compared to earthworms in organic soils. The ability of these worms to detoxify themselves, however, appears to come at a price.  Earthworms found in conventional soils are smaller and reproduce less than worms in organic soils. This may be because earthworms exposed to the fungicide need to invest more of their energy in eliminating the toxin from their system, and therefore have less energy to invest in growth and reproduction.