Anecic earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) facilitate the burial of surface-applied wood ash

  • Michael J. McTavishEmail author
  • Adam Gorgolewski
  • Stephen D. Murphy
  • Nathan Basiliko
Original Paper


The purpose of our study was to determine whether earthworms facilitate the burial of surface-applied wood ash. We mixed a fluorescent tracer powder with fly ash from a commercial biomass boiler to track and quantify ash burial in microcosms containing different densities of the deep-burrowing anecic earthworm Lumbricus terrestris L. While passive incorporation of the wood ash-tracer mix from the surface in the absence of earthworms was limited (rarely penetrating more than 2 cm below the surface), earthworms increased the amount of ash-tracer found belowground and the maximum depths at which ash-tracer was observed (up to 16 cm deep). We suspect that earthworms facilitated wood ash burial primarily by creating burrows down which wood ash could be carried by water and by burying wood ash-covered leaf litter. Earthworms may help increase the efficacy of wood ash amendment in ecosystems where it is impractical to manually mix amendments into the soil (e.g. forests).


Earthworm Soil amendment Bioturbation Forest management 



We would like to thank Donald McTavish for helping develop the MATLAB® code to create the ash burial images.

Author contributions

All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection, and data analyses were performed by Michael McTavish. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Michael McTavish and all authors contributed comments and revisions included in the final version. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Funding information

This study was financially supported by a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship (CGS) (McTavish) and the University of Waterloo through the Centre for Ecosystem Resilience and Adaptation (Murphy).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Environment, Resources and SustainabilityUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada
  2. 2.Faculty of ForestryUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Department of Biology and the Vale Living with Lakes CentreLaurentian UniversitySudburyCanada

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