Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 237–251 | Cite as

Earthworm activities and the soil system

  • P. Lavelle


Earthworms find in soil the energy, nutrient resources, water and buffered climatic conditions that they need. According to the food resource they exploit and the general environmental conditions, earthworms can be grouped into different functional categories which differ essentially in morphology, size, pigmentation, distribution in the soil profile, ability to dig galleries and produce surface casts, demographic profiles and relationships with the soil microflora. Soil characteristics are both the determinant and the consequence of earthworm activities, since these animals greatly influence the functioning of the soil system. When present, they build and maintain the soil structure and take an active part in energy and nutrient cycling through the selective activation of both mineralization and humification processes. By their physical activities and resultant chemical effects, earthworms promote short and rapid cycles of nutrients and assimilable carbohydrates. Thus earthworms represent a key component in the biological strategies of nutrient cycling in soils and the structure of their communities gives a clear indication of the type of soil system that they inhabit.

Key words

Earthworm communities Soil structure Nutrient cycling Soil organic matter Microbial activity 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. Lavelle
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratoire d'Ecologie, Ecole Normale SupérieureParis, Cedex 05France

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