Now Micro Plastics Can Increase Earthworm Mortality & Contaminate Soil
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Now Micro Plastics Can Increase Earthworm Mortality & Contaminate Soil

According to recent studies, the presence of micro plastics can inhibit earthworm growth and  even cause them to lose weight, which might significantly & adversely affect the soil ecology. Researchers from College of Environmental Science and Engineering, Nankai University, Tianjin have researched and found the adverse effects of microplastics on earthworms and how it can worsen earthworm mortality. Micro plastics in terrestrial ecosystems are extensively dispersed and have been shown to impact earthworms negatively. Earthworms’ oxidative reactions, gene expression, growth, behaviour, and gut microbiota are all affected by micro plastics. In addition to other  contaminants, heavy metals, and hydrophobic organic compounds, micro plastics are  frequently found together (HOCs). So microplastics are even contaminating the earthworms and the land they dwell in

Previously researchers from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) looked at how ryegrass that had been put on top of biodegradable polylactic acid (PLA), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and micro plastic garment fibers (acrylic and  nylon) affected earthworms that lived in the soil. Earthworms can selectively consume micro plastics,  favouring those with smaller particle sizes (much less than 50 m) and biodegradable  components. In general, earthworms are more significantly harmed by micro plastics with  more significant concentrations (particularly those > 0.5%, w/w) and smaller sizes (e.g., 100  nm). Micro plastics can also help earthworms accumulate organic and heavy metal  contaminants, which can cause more severe harm.  

The study also discovered that the pH of the soil dropped when HDPE was present.  Additionally, soil containing PLA, a biodegradable plastic, decreased the ryegrass’s shoot  height (Lolium perenne). In contrast, fewer ryegrass seeds germinated in the presence of PLA  and textile fibers.  

Earthworm mortality, behavior, growth, reproduction, oxidative response, and gut  microbiota are the primary components of co-exposure that have an impact on earthworms.  The negative impacts of other pollutants on earthworms may generally be made worse by  micro plastics. For example, micro plastics can make it easier for other contaminants to  accumulate in earthworms, slow down development rates, aggravate oxidative damage, and  alter the gut microbiota of earthworms.  

Dr. Bas Boots, the study’s lead author and a lecturer in biology at Anglia Ruskin University  (ARU), noted that the earthworms often gained weight when some micro plastics were  present while losing weight when others were present. However, it’s crucial to identify the  precise causes of this weight reduction. The reaction mechanisms to earthworm micro plastics  may be similar to those of the previously researched aquatic lugworms. The digestive system  is obstructed and irritated, nutritional absorption is constrained, and development is inhibited,  among other impacts.  

Connor Russell, a co-author of the study and alumnus of Anglia Ruskin University’s (ARU)  MSc Applied Wildlife Conservation program, said: “Earthworms may be thought of as  ecosystem engineers since they assist in maintaining healthy soil. They accomplish this by  consuming decomposing organic waste, increasing nutrient availability. Their digging  enhances soil structure, aids drainage, and reduces erosion. Because of this, it is quite  possible that any pollution that affects the well-being of soil fauna, such as earthworms, may  have a domino effect on other facets of the soil ecosystem, including plant development.

Nikitha Sebastian

Nikitha is a undergrad student pursuing her Triple Major Bachelors in Journalism, Psychology, and English from Christ University. She is always eager to learn new things and explore challenging roles. Multitasking and time management come naturally to her.

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