Worm Farm Introduction and Guide
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The ecosystem consists of plants, which in turn support, and themselves depend on, a range of larger organisms such as insects, mites, spiders, earthworms and ants, not to mention livestock and other grazing animals. There are also small organisms including bacteria, fungi and actinomycetes, such as mycorrhiza, that are active in converting nutrients to plant available forms.
Other researchers develop more complicated taxonomies for understanding the value of genetic resources. For example, Brown (1990) allows for the 'indirect production value' that species can add from their services to the ecosystem for example, earthworms help to aerate soil, and certain birds and bugs control pests. Likewise, Brown explicitly considers the 'future non-consumption use value' that is derived from preserving genetic resources as a form of insurance against an uncertain future.
Most of the laboratory studies have been performed in the United States, where a complex of nontarget organisms serves as a standard group for which results are accepted by the EPA. These include a range of terrestrial and freshwater aquatic organisms generally considered beneficial. These typically are larvae and or adults of one or more of the following organisms the honeybee, parasitic wasps, predatory ladybird beetles and lacewings, soil-dwelling springtails (Collembola), earthworms, and as a representative of a freshwater aquatic crustacean, a daphnid (Table 3.8).98-100 In these tests, the nontarget organisms were typically exposed to or fed amounts of toxin that were in the range of at least a hundred to several thousand times the amount they would be exposed to or consume under natural conditions. In such tests, when no effects are observed at the highest dose or rate tested, this amount is referred to as the no-observed-effect-level (NOEL). For a crop like Bt corn, the
Seed predators consume significant numbers of weed seeds in some agroe-cosytems. Prior to dispersal from the parent, predation is primarily by host-specific natural enemies. Pre-dispersal seed predators may occasionally consume a substantial proportion of the seeds produced (Forsyth & Watson, 1985), but particularly in annual crops, they may have difficulty in locating their host plants, as explained in the section Survival after emergence below. After seeds have dispersed from the parent, they are attacked by a range of generalist seed predators including birds, small mammals, earthworms,
A fourth general pattern is that small, round-seeded species tend to persist in the seed bank longer than species with large or elongate seeds. Thompson, Band & Hodgson (1993) surveyed 97 species and found that few species with seeds larger than 2 mg or with variance in diaspore relative dimension greater than 0.2 persisted longer than 5 years in the soil. In the non-agricultural conditions in which seed persistence evolved, incorporation into the soil was probably more difficult for large or elongate seeds than for small, round ones. The latter can wash into cracks, or be ingested by earthworms more easily than the former. Since seed survival is lower on the soil surface than deep in the profile, species with a low probability of incorporation into the seed bank probably experienced little selection favoring mechanisms that allow long persistence. Large seeds are also more likely to be eaten by small mammals (Hulme, 1994), and possibly selection rarely favors mechanisms that allow...
Numerous Cry proteins (Cry1Ab, Cry1Ac, Cry1F, Cry9C) have been expressed in commercial corn hybrids to control the European corn borer and the southwestern corn borer (Diatraea grandiosella Dyar). However, only hybrids using either Cry1Ab or Cry1F are currently used for control of lepidopteran pests in corn. Recent EPA risk assessments have considered their possible nontarget effects, in part by confirming the relatively narrow range of toxicity for Cry1 proteins.27,28 Results from a spectrum of studies conducted on nontarget species not closely related to target pests (earthworms, daphnia, springtails, honeybees, ladybird beetles, parasitoids, lacewings) showed that ingestion of extremely high doses of Cry1Ab or Cry1F was not harmful to nonlepidopteran organisms (Tables 4.1 and 4.2).24,27,28,47,48 Nontarget organisms in the soil are potentially exposed to Bt toxins and their breakdown products over extended periods 65-67 this route of exposure may differentially impact soil organisms...
Soil biological activity refers to the living aspects of the soil, which includes the large, small and minute life forms in the soil. These life forms include animals such as earthworms and springtails, fungi such as the hyphae of mushrooms and toadstools, actinomycetes and mycorrhizae, and bacteria such as rhizobia.
Among the studies published in the October, 2005 issue of Environmental Entomology are three papers that examined the effects of the Cry3Bb corn over a three-year period, from 2000 to 2003, on nontarget invertebrate populations.120-122 The first two of these examined the effects on, respectively, soil-dwelling and foliage-dwelling arthropods on corn grown in Illinois, whereas the last examined the effects on populations of springtails (Collembola) in Illinois and Iowa. Insecticides used as controls on non-Bt corn were imidacloprid and the pyrethroid, tefluthrin. As in the studies of Bt corn targeted to control lepidopteran pests, a wide range of nontarget arthropods were evaluated in the first two studies, including spiders, ground beetles, rove beetles, syrphid flies, lacewings, hymenopteran parasitoids, heteropteran predators, centipedes, earthworms, and detritovores. Minor effects were observed in 2 of the 14 major taxa studied on Bt corn compared to conventional corn, whereas in...
Soil biological activity is also affected by soil pH. This becomes important approaching the extremes of acidity or alkalinity, when, for example, various species of earthworms and nitrifying bacteria disappear. Rhizobia strains vary in their sensitivity to soil pH, and have preferred ranges in which they are effective (Figure 5). Most soil organisms function best between pH 6.0-7.0.
This is a characteristic of the organic part of the soil where most of the biological activity occurs. It is a result of the formation of humus and organic matter, the decomposition of dead plants and animals, and the amount of soil organisms present, such as bacteria, fungi, earthworms, insects and other soil organisms. This is all about 'living soil' and for many years it has been known that the amount of production that can come from above the soil is directly dependent on what is growing under the soil surface. A good ratio of organic carbon to soil nitrogen is 10 1-12 1.
Bare soil is much more prone to erosion than soil with even moderate amounts of vegetative cover. This cover does not have to be living plants, but dry crop or pasture stubble or various forms of mulch can also effectively protect soil from erosion. The important issue is that the plant matter or mulch absorbs the energy from the raindrops, and prevents soil particles being loosened and displaced. In areas where earthworms are very active, their castings on the soil surface can also help protect the underlying soil. Bare soil may be the result of management practices, or could be the result of wildfires, which may almost completely remove vegetative cover over large areas, often in steep, highly erodable country. The quality of ground cover may also be limited by the fertility of the soil, and if fertility is low, then it may only support sparse vegetation.
Earthworms improve soil structure, which increases infiltration. While feeding on organic materials and burrowing in soils, earthworms secrete gelatinous substances that coat and stabilize soil aggregates. Water-stable aggregates result also from water-insoluble gummy substances secreted by bacteria, fungi, and actinomycetes. Earthworm activity and intensive soil tillage are not very compatible. Hence, little earthworm activity occurs in many intensively cultivated soils 138 . For maximum earthworm activity, no tillage is desirable.