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Self-Assemblage and Quorum in the Earthworm Eisenia fetida (Oligochaete, Lumbricidae)

By Lara Zirbes, Yves Brostaux, Mark Mescher, Maxime Jason, Eric Haubruge and Jean-Louis Deneubourg


Despite their ubiquity and ecological significance in temperate ecosystems, the behavioural ecology of earthworms is not well described. This study examines the mechanisms that govern aggregation behaviour specially the tendency of individuals to leave or join groups in the compost earthworm Eisenia fetida, a species with considerable economic importance, especially in waste management applications. Through behavioural assays combined with mathematical modelling, we provide the first evidence of self-assembled social structures in earthworms and describe key mechanisms involved in cluster formation. We found that the probability of an individual joining a group increased with group size, while the probability of leaving decreased. Moreover, attraction to groups located at a distance was observed, suggesting a role for volatile cues in cluster formation. The size of earthworm clusters appears to be a key factor determining the stability of the group. These findings enhance our understanding of intra-specific interactions in earthworms and have potential implications for extraction and collection of earthworms in vermicomposting processes

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Publisher: Public Library of Science
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