Cover Image
close this bookBiodiversity in the Western Ghats: An Information Kit (IIRR, 1994, 224 p.)
close this folder1. Front matter
View the document1.1 About this information kit
View the document1.2 Workshop participants
View the document1.3 Introduction to biodiversity
View the document1.4 User survey
View the document1.5 Biodiversity: A synthesis
close this folder2. Threats
View the document2.1 Biodiversity of the Western Ghats
View the document2.2 Threats to biodiversity
View the document2.3 Urbanization and biodiversity
View the document2.4 Population and biodiversity in the Western Ghats
View the document2.5 Pollution in Goa's rivers and estuaries
View the document2.6 Atmospheric pollution and biodiversity
View the document2.7 Managing solid waste
View the document2.8 Traffic in wildlife products
View the document2.9 Effect of tobacco growing on biodiversity
View the document2.10 For those vanishing species
close this folder3. Marine
View the document3.1 Biodiversity of the Arabian Sea
View the document3.2 Seaweeds
View the document3.3 O verexploitation of of marine living resources
View the document3.4 Small-sector coastal fisheries along the Kerala coast
View the document3.5 Coral reefs
View the document3.6 Crabs
View the document3.7 Estuarine shellfish
View the document3.8 Fish
View the document3.9 Coastal ecosystems
View the document3.10 Coastal sand dune vegetation
View the document3.11 Fish breeding and habitat
close this folder4. Fresh- and brackishwater
View the document4.1 Estuarine ecosystems
View the document4.2 Mangroves
View the document4.3 Mangrove communities
View the document4.4 Wetlands
View the document4.5 Freshwater wetlands: Carambolim Lake
View the document4.6 Freshwater algae
close this folder5. Agriculture
View the document5.1 Rice diversity and conservation in the Konkan
View the document5.2 Conservation of traditional vegetables in the backyard
View the document5.3 Genetic diversity in mango and cashew
View the document5.4 Floriculture and arboriculture
View the document5.5 Enriched biodiversity by plant introductions
View the document5.6 Impact of introduced plants
View the document5.7 Effects of pesticides on biodiversity
View the document5.8 Khazan (saline) lands
close this folder6. Plants, fungi and bacteria
View the document6.1 Plant associations of the central Western Ghats
View the document6.2 Rare and endangered flowering plants
View the document6.3 Medicinal resources from the forest and sea
View the document6.4 Poisonous plants
View the document6.5 Fungi: Biodiversity, ecology and use
View the document6.6 Conserving fungi
View the document6.7 Edible mushrooms
View the document6.8 Microbial biodiversity of salt pans
close this folder7. Invertebrates
View the document7.1 Butterflies
View the document7.2 Honeybees to conserve biodiversity
View the document7.3 Mulberry silkworms
View the document7.4 Spiders
View the document7.5 Conserving natural enemies of mosquitoes
View the document7.6 Vermicomposting
close this folder8. Reptiles, birds and mammals
View the document8.1 Snakes
View the document8.2 Crocodiles
View the document8.3 Birds
View the document8.4 Mammals
View the document8.5 Animal diversity in prehistoric rock-art
close this folder9. Appreciating and conserving biodiversity
View the document9.1 Biodiversity and the media
View the document9.2 Role of non-government organizations in conservation
View the document9.3 Watershed management
View the document9.4 Energy conservation and alternatives
View the document9.5 Nature trails
View the document9.6 Sacred groves
View the document9.7 Rehabilitation of iron ore mine wasteland in Goa
View the document9.8 Reforestation to restore mining areas
View the document9.9 Mining: Social and environmental impacts
View the document9.10 Resource utilization in Uttar Kannada district
View the document9.11 Biodiversity of Dudhsagar valley
close this folder10. Reference
View the document10.1 National parks and sanctuaries in the Western Ghats
View the document10.2 Glossary
View the document10.3 NGOs in the Western Ghats states

7.6 Vermicomposting

Earthworms are among the most ancient of terrestrial animal groups. Originally they were marine animals. Fossils of Polychaete worms have been found in South Australia in Precambrian sediments 630-570 million years old. Today's earthworms belong to the Oligochaetes. The limits of evolutionary and ecological diversity must be defined by inherent limitations of their mechanical "design" and behavioral and physiological adaptability.

Earthworms are traditionally used in domestic compost heaps and earth toilets. People are now looking for ways to dispose of domestic and industrial wastes without polluting the environment. This has sparked interest in using earthworms for large-scale waste disposal. Worms are thus seen as a biological resource for rural development. Maintaining the diversity of resources such as worms will help ensure a resource base for future technologies such as vermicomposting.


The practice of using earthworms for composting is known as vermicomposting. Not all earthworms are useful for vermicomposting. Earthworms are classified into two groups:

· Humus-formers (detritivores) - useful for vermicomposting

· Humus-feeders (geophagous) - useful for soil turnover and tillage. Worms used for vermicomposting should have following characteristics:

· Able to live in active compost.

· Tolerate extreme changes in temperature.

· Multiply fast, undergo rapid incubation, and mature quickly.

· Digest well and have such enzymes as cellulase and chitinase in their gut.

Aristotle described earthworms as "intestines" of the earth. Charles Darwin wrote about earthworms, "it may be doubted where there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as have these lowly organized creatures."

Humus former

· Surface dwelling
· Red color
· Feed on nearly 90% fresh organic matter and 10% soil
· Harnessed for vermicomposting

Humus feeder

· Deep burrowing
· Pale color
· Feed on nearly 90% soil and 10% nearly degraded or humified organic matter
· Useful in making the soil porous and mixing and distributing humus through soil

Humus former and feeder

Species useful for vermicomposting are:

Exotic species

Indigenous species

Eisenia fetida

Lampitto mauritii

Eudrilus euginea

Perionyx excavatus

Dravida vilsii

Dichogester bolavii

Effects of vermicomposting on indigenous species

It is not possible to use both exotic and endemic humus-forming species for vermicomposting. Exotic species multiply very rapidly and outgrow the endemic species.

However, using humus-forming exotic species for vermicomposting can be useful. Fast turnover of organic matter by these humus-formers produces food rich in bacteria and humus for the indigenous humus-feeders. The humus-feeders can then multiply very fast under vermicompost heaps and after the compost is added to the field, stimulating their soil processing activities such as aeration, tunneling and soil turnover.

Vermicomposting for rural sanitation

Earthworms can be used to process human faeces. Vermiculture may be particularly useful for treating sewage in rural areas. Research has shown that some types of bacteria found in faeces, Serratia marcessens and Escherichia coli, are killed when they are ingested by the earthworm L. terrestris. The worms reduced numbers of the pathogen Salmonella erteriditis to a level of 2000-fold less, possibly because of competition from the endemic microflora of the worm gut.

Earthworms aerate sewage sludge and speed its drying, thereby favouring aerobic bacteria. Since most human enteric pathogens are anaerobes, sludge condtioning by earthworms can be beneficial from the public health standpoint. More research is needed on the effect of vermicomposting on other enteric bacteria, pathogenic viruses and parasites.

In villages in India, vermicomposting of latrine waste mixed with other agricultural waste can help dispose of sewage and produce valuable compost that can increase soil fertility and agricultural production.

Vermicomposting for rural sanitation

Vermicomposting of sewage sludge

· Aerobic sludge ingested by E. fetida is decomposed and stabilized about three times as fast as non-ingested sludge.

· Objectionable odors disappear more quickly.

· Marked reduction in populations of Salmonella enteriditis and other Enterobacteriaceae.

· Anaerobic sludge and sun-dried sludge is toxic to E. fetida.

· Sewage sludge can be, mixed with cellulosic and lignin-rich wastes.

· Earthworms, which accumulate heavy metals and agrochemicals from sewage, may be environmentally hazardous if used as protein source.

Practical applications of biodiversity

Symbiotic relationship between detritivorous worms and micro-organisms

Vermicomposting potential

· Population of India is 8,000,000.

· The average person produces an average of 1/2 kg of excrete every day.

· 4,000,000 kg of night soil, if vermicomposted, would yield 2,000,000 kg of humus-rich organic compost a day.

· Considering the night soil of the 70% of the population living in villages, nearly 1,400,000 kg vermicompost could be prepared every day.

Prepared by Dr. Jambbekar