The introduction of earthworms into soils contaminated with metals and metalloids has been suggested to aid restoration practices. Eisenia veneta (epigeic), Lumbricus terrestris (anecic) and Allolobophora chlorotica (endogeic) earthworms were cultivated in columns containing 900 g soil with 1130, 345, 113 and 131 mg kg−1 of As, Cu, Pb and Zn, respectively, for up to 112 days, in parallel with earthworm-free columns. Leachate was produced by pouring water on the soil surface to saturate the soil and generate downflow. Ryegrass was grown on the top of columns to assess metal uptake into biota. Different ecological groups affected metals in the same way by increasing concentrations and free ion activities in leachate, but anecic L. terrestris had the greatest effect by increasing leachate concentrations of As by 267%, Cu by 393%, Pb by 190%, and Zn by 429% compared to earthworm-free columns. Ryegrass grown in earthworm-bearing soil accumulated more metal and the soil microbial community exhibited greater stress. Results are consistent with earthworm enhanced degradation of organic matter leading to release of organically bound elements. The degradation of organic matter also releases organic acids which decrease the soil pH. The earthworms do not appear to carry out a unique process, but increase the rate of a process that is already occurring. The impact of earthworms on metal mobility and availability should therefore be considered when inoculating earthworms into contaminated soils as new pathways to receptors may be created or the flow of metals and metalloids to receptors may be elevated.
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