Agroecology from A to Z

Adventures in Agroecology and Food Systems

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Dung fungi and earthworms, oh my!

Moving to the desert from the soggy Northeast (via the soggy Northwest), I had a horrible feeling that I would never see a mushroom growing out of the ground or a wild earthworm again. It turns out I was wrong! Especially during a heavy monsoon season.

I TAed the Cornell Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology course “Magical Molds Mischievous Mushrooms” in 2011 and we had a fun unit on dung fungi. Based on the amazing dung fungi I saw at Jenner Farm last week, I’m really looking forward to developing a soil microbiology course in the future that includes these fascinating organisms and their role in decomposition and soil nutrient cycling.

Just a note, I really can’t mention mushrooms without pointing everyone to my friend and mentor, Kathie Hodge’s, Mushroom Blog.

Dung fungi in horse manure
More dung fungi on horse manure
Coprinus spp. or “Inky cap”

And now, on to the earthworm casts. The earthworms at Jenner Farm are really loving the monsoon season. They have been surfacing and doing some serious construction and remodeling on their burrows.

I had always seen earthworm casts in my mom’s garden, but I didn’t get interested in them scientifically until I read Darwin’s classic “The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits” in 2000. Check out this etching from the original publication (courtesy of the American Philosophical Society’s museum in Philadelphia).


Earthworm casts at the entrance of a burrow