Global distribution of earthworm diversity

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Science  25 Oct 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6464, pp. 480-485
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax4851

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Earthworm distribution in global soils

Earthworms are key components of soil ecological communities, performing vital functions in decomposition and nutrient cycling through ecosystems. Using data from more than 7000 sites, Phillips et al. developed global maps of the distribution of earthworm diversity, abundance, and biomass (see the Perspective by Fierer). The patterns differ from those typically found in aboveground taxa; there are peaks of diversity and abundance in the mid-latitude regions and peaks of biomass in the tropics. Climate variables strongly influence these patterns, and changes are likely to have cascading effects on other soil organisms and wider ecosystem functions.

Science, this issue p. 480; see also p. 425


Soil organisms, including earthworms, are a key component of terrestrial ecosystems. However, little is known about their diversity, their distribution, and the threats affecting them. We compiled a global dataset of sampled earthworm communities from 9212 sites in 57 countries as a basis for predicting patterns in earthworm diversity, abundance, and biomass. We found that local species richness and abundance typically peaked at mid-latitudes, displaying patterns opposite to those observed in aboveground organisms. However, high species dissimilarity across tropical locations may cause diversity across the entirety of the tropics to be higher than elsewhere. Climate variables and habitat cover were found to be more important in shaping earthworm communities than soil properties. These findings suggest that climate and habitat change may have serious implications for earthworm communities and for the functions they provide.

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