Preliminary Examination Correlating Earthworm Behavior and Acid Mine Drainage-Contamination in Soils

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ASA, CSSA, SSSA International Annual Meeting

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Pyrite mining, common in part of Virginia a century ago, left behind many abandoned sites full of tailings, overburden, and exposed sulfate minerals. Contrary Creek, a stream in central Virginia, and its surrounding soils have become largely polluted with arsenic, lead, copper, zinc, and high acidity due to the runoff from the abandoned mines. This process called acid-mine drainage has nearly eliminated all aquatic and terrestrial animal life in the surrounding 12 hectares. Soil quality in degraded areas can be evaluated by assessing the behavior, survival, and other biological factors of earthworms in these contaminated conditions as well as analyzing the different trace metal fractions within the soils, focusing on total and bioavailable concentrations. Earthworms such as Eisenia fetida (red wigglers) are soil-dwelling geophages that are sensitive to soil conditions while maintaining a relatively high tolerance range and are an ideal indicator species when analyzing soil conditions. E. fetida earthworm biomass and behavior was used as an indicator of soil quality in soils from four locations near Contrary Creek. Mesocosms were prepared with pH values ranging from 3.70-4.65 and various levels of bioavailable metals. Before and after a two-week incubation, earthworm behavior was analyzed using the ToxTrac program, which quantifies mobility by average distance, speed, and acceleration, the first time to our knowledge that this program has been applied to worms. Earthworm biomass was also recorded before and after incubation. Acid-mine drainage pollution is a global concern, so finding a method to evaluate and perhaps mitigate the polluted soil regarding ecological health would be a valuable technique.


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The American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America host a premier international scientific meeting that brings together leading and emerging scientific leaders from industry, government agencies, and academic institutions who are all working to advance agronomic, crop and soil sciences.

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