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Applied and Environmental Soil Science
Volume 2011, Article ID 541592, 12 pages
Review Article

Impact of Biochar on Earthworm Populations: A Review

1USDA Agricultural Research Service, North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab, 803 Iowa Avenue, Morris, MN 56267, USA
2USDA Agricultural Research Service, Soil and Water Management Unit, University of Minnesota, 1991 Upper Buford Circle, S. Paul, MN 55108, USA

Received 2 June 2011; Accepted 18 August 2011

Academic Editor: Alessandro Piccolo

Copyright © 2011 Sharon L. Weyers and Kurt A. Spokas. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Despite the overwhelming importance of earthworm activity in the soil system, there are a limited number of studies that have examined the impact resulting from biochar addition to soil. Biochar is part of the black carbon continuum of chemo-thermal converted biomass. This review summarizes existing data pertaining to earthworms where biochar and other black carbon substances, including slash-and-burn charcoals and wood ash, have been applied. After analyzing existing studies on black carbon, we identified that these additions have a range from short-term negative impacts to long-term null effects on earthworm population density and total biomass. Documented cases of mortality were found with certain biochar-soil combinations; the cause is not fully understood, but hypothesized to be related to pH, whether the black carbon is premoistened, affects feeding behaviors, or other unknown factors. With wood ashes, negative impacts were overcome with addition of other carbon substrates. Given that field data is limited, soils amended with biochar did not appear to cause significant long-term impacts. However, this may indicate that the magnitude of short-term negative impacts on earthworm populations can be reduced with time.