A news article by Matt Walker, 'Earthworms eat live seeds and plants,scientists find' posted on the BBC website last week makes interesting reading (available at http://news.bbc.co.uk:80/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8694000/8694377.stm ). A team of biologists from gottingen have found that instead of confining themselves to the consumption of plant debris, earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris, the familiar subject of school dissections) actively seek nutrient-rich seeds and seedlings, especially of legumes, thus altering completely our perceptions of them. The principal author of the published research, Dr Nico Eisenhauer, calls them 'seedling predators'.
The article suggests that this information could be of benefit to those wishing to encourage healthy worm populations, as they could be encouraged by the sowing of favoured seeds. On the converse side, the spread of earthworms into areas where they are not indigenous is already causing the disappearance of some native plants and this discovery may prove to be the explanation for this. For most of us, however, this is merely a curious extra fact about an amazing creature, and shows how little is known about the most familiar of organisms and their roles in their ecosystems.
The details and abstract of the original paper by Eisenhauer et al. may be found at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6TC7-500XYD0-4&_user=10&_coverDate=05%2F05%2F2010&_alid=1343265257&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_cdi=5163&_sort=r&_docanchor=&view=c&_ct=261&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=c4446bc27ff2904095b332a6e33161f6