Approximately 20% of global CO2 emissions and 66% of nitrous oxide emissions come from soil. Emissions are produced by a number of natural biological processes involving plant roots and subterranean microorganisms.
Scientists previously thought that because earthworms move soil and encourage the breakdown of organic matter to produce carbon dioxide, they increased CO2 emissions from soils by an average of 33%.
A researcher in South China Botanical Garden in Guangzhou says not so fast and believes that the assertion the earthworms are a contributor to climate change is a gross exaggeration. The research of his team demonstrates that the earthworms’ guts can actually convert organic carbon into a form that can be stored in the soil instead of released into the atmosphere.
It takes careful observation, not to mention patience, to see this carbon capture phenomenon, and currently, no long-term measurements exist.
Earthworms were not considered at all in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) latest report on climate science, despite the fact researchers are starting to believe that they play a critical role in the greenhouse gas balance of soils. Their role may become even more important over the next decade.