Do earthworms (D. veneta) influence plant-available water in technogenic soil-like substrate from bricks and compost?

Susanne Ulrich, Moreen Willaredt, Thomas Nehls*, Loes van Schaik

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose: Topsoil and peat are often taken from intact rural ecosystems to supply the urban demand for fertile soils and soil-like substrates. One way of reducing this exploitation is to recycle suitable urban wastes to produce Technosols and technogenic soil-like substrates. In this study, we investigate the role earthworms can play in impacting the hydraulic properties of such a soil-like substrate. Materials and methods: In a 4-month microcosm experiment, the influence of the earthworm species D. veneta on the hydraulic properties of brick-compost mixture was examined. Of the ten boxes filled with ca. 11 dm3 of ground bricks (0.7 cm3 cm−3) and green waste compost (0.3 cm3 cm−3), five contained earthworms (W-boxes) and the remaining five were used as controls (C-boxes). The substrate was periodically irrigated and the weight of the boxes and of the drained water was monitored. At the same time, images were taken from the front of the boxes to quantify the activity of the earthworms by image analysis and soil aggregation was studied with micrographs. Before and after the experiment, water retention curves were determined from disturbed samples of the substrate using the simplified evaporation method. Results and discussion: After 6 weeks, differences between the C- and the W-boxes were evident. Micrographs showed brick-compost aggregates only for the substrates processed by earthworms. The earthworm activity leads to reduced evaporation and an increased water content in the respective microcosms. The effect persists even after disturbing the substrate. The proportion of plant-available soil water is about 0.02 cm3 cm−3 higher for the substrate processed by earthworms (0.250 ± 0.009 cm3 cm−3) compared with the control (0.230 ± 0.008 cm3 cm−3). Conclusions: This study shows that earthworms are capable of ingesting and processing crushed bricks together with compost. The earthworms produced aggregates which persisted after disturbance and had a positive influence on the water retention capacity of such a soil-like substrate constructed from waste.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Soils and Sediments
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Sep 2020


  • Brick-compost mixture
  • Earthworms
  • Microcosms
  • Soil-like substrate
  • Technosol
  • Water retention

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