Review Article

Agronomy for Sustainable Development

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 199-228

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Pesticides and earthworms. A review

  • Céline PelosiAffiliated withINRA, UR251 PESSAC Email author 
  • , Sébastien BarotAffiliated withIRD, UMR7618 Bioemco
  • , Yvan CapowiezAffiliated withINRA, UMR406 UAPV
  • , Mickaël HeddeAffiliated withINRA, UR251 PESSAC
  • , Franck VandenbulckeAffiliated withUniversité Lille Nord de France-Lille 1LGCgE-Lille 1EA4515, Equipe Ecotoxicologie


Earthworms provide key soil functions that favour many positive ecosystem services. These services are important for agroecosystem sustainability but can be degraded by intensive cultural practices such as use of pesticides. Many literature reports have investigated the effect of pesticides on earthworms. Here, we review those reports to assess the relevance of the indicators of earthworm response to pesticides, to assess their sensitivity to pesticides, and to highlight the remaining knowledge gaps. We focus on European earthworm species and products authorised in Europe, excluding natural compounds and metals. We consider different organisation levels: the infra-individual level (gene expression and physiology), the individual and population levels (life-history traits, population density and behaviour) and the community level: community biomass and density. Our analysis shows that earthworms are impacted by pesticides at all organisation levels. For example, pesticides disrupt enzymatic activities, increase individual mortality, decrease fecundity and growth, change individual behaviour such as feeding rate and decrease the overall community biomass and density. Insecticides and fungicides are the most toxic pesticides impacting survival and reproduction, respectively.


Lumbricidae Organisation levels Plant protection products Biomarkers Insecticides Fungicides Herbicides