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Earthworms: 'The secret weapon against climate change'

world Updated: Oct 02, 2011 12:25 IST

PTI
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Believe it or not, the humble earthworm has become the latest secret weapon in the war against climate change.

A major four-year-old study has revealed that instead of just wriggling around and providing food for birds, earthworms -- have been burrowing their way through the ground for 300 million years -- can help prevent flooding and droughts.

Floods and droughts are caused by cycles of dry weather and monsoon-type rains often said to be caused by global warming. And this is where the humble earthworm can help the planet, say researchers at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Society in the UK.

The average worm weighs less than half an ounce but it is able to eat through a third of its own weight in soil a day. When worms tunnel the soil absorbs more water, meaning that in their millions, worms can turn the ground into one vast sponge soaking up water in floods but retaining it during dry spells.

Now, farmers can play a vital part in combating the devastation caused by floods and droughts by encouraging earthworms, according to the researchers.

"Our research shows that farmers can make a huge difference in helping to mitigate the effects of climate change. When fields are not ploughed, the soil condition is improved naturally by the tunnelling of earthworms, which absorb water at a rate of four to 10 times that of fields which are without worm tunnels.

"This in turn helps the soil to take up water during storms and to retain it during drought. It also helped to buffer our stream from flooding during heavy rain," the 'Sunday Express' quoted Dr Chris Stoate, head of research at the society's Allerton Project farm, as saying.