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Production and dissolution rates of earthworm-secreted calcium carbonate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Published copy (DOI)


  • Denise C. Lambkin
  • Kerry H. Gwilliam
  • Caroline Layton
  • Matt G. Canti
  • Trevor G. Piearce
  • Mark E. Hodson


Publication details

DateE-pub ahead of print - 16 Sep 2011
DatePublished (current) - 29 Dec 2011
Issue numberSUPPL.
Number of pages11
Pages (from-to)S119-S129
Early online date16/09/11
Original languageEnglish


Earthworms secrete granules of calcium carbonate. These are potentially important in soil biogeochemical cycles and are routinely recorded in archaeological studies of Quaternary soils. Production rates of calcium carbonate granules by the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris L were determined over 27 days in a range of soils with differing chemical properties (pH, organic matter content, water holding capacity, bulk composition, cation exchange capacity and exchangeable cations). Production rate varied between soils, lay in the range 0-0.043 mmol(CaCO3), (0-4.3 mg) earthworm(-1) d(-1) with an average rate of 8 x 10(-3) mmol(CaCO3) (0.8 mg) earthworm(-1) d(-1) and was significantly correlated (r= 0.68, P <= 0.01) with soil pH. In a second experiment lasting 315 days earthworms repeatedly (over periods of 39-57 days) produced comparable masses of granules. Converting individual earthworm granule production rates into fluxes expressed on a per hectare of land per year basis depends heavily on estimates of earthworm numbers. Using values of 10-20 L terrestris m(-2) suggests a rate of 18- 3139 mol(CaCO3) ha(-1) yr(-1). Data obtained from flow-through dissolution experiments suggest that at near neutral pH, granule geometric surface area-normalised dissolution rates are similar to those for other biogenic and inorganic calcites. Fits of the data to the dissolution relationship r= k(1- Omega)" where r = dissolution rate, k = a rate constant, Omega = relative saturation and n = the reaction order gave values of k = 1.72 x 10(-10) mol cm(-2) s(-1) n = 1.8 for the geometric surface area-normalised rates and k = 3.51 x 10(-13) mol cm(-2) s(-1) n = 1.8 for the BET surface area-normalised rates. In 196 day leaching column experiments trends in granule dissolution rate referenced to soil chemistry corresponded to predictions made by the SLIM model for dissolution of limestone in soil. If soil solution approaches saturation with respect to calcium carbonate, granule dissolution will slow or even stop and granules be preserved indefinitely. Granules have the potential to be a small but significant component of the biogeochemical cycling of C and Ca in soil. (C) 2011 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.

Bibliographical note

©2011, Elsevier GmbH.


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