Action of earthworms on flint burial - a return to Darwin's estate
For thirty years, from the early 1840s, Charles Darwin documented the disappearance of flints in the grounds of Down House in Kent, at a location originally known as the “Stony Field”. This site (Great Pucklands Meadow – GPM) was visited in 2007 and an experiment set up in this ungrazed grassland. Locally-sourced flints (either large – 12 cm, or small – 5 cm dia.) were deposited at two densities within sixteen 1 m2 plots in a randomised factorial design. The area selected was distant from public access routes and remained unmown throughout the duration here reported. Fixed point photographs were taken at the outset to enable later photogrammetric analysis. After 6 years, the site was re-examined. The flints had generally been incorporated into the soil. Photographs were re-taken, proportion of buried flints recorded and measurements made of burial depth from a quarter of each plot. Results showed that large flints were more deeply incorporated than smaller (p = 0.025), but more of the latter were below the soil surface. A controlled laboratory experiment was also conducted using Aporrectodea longa (the dominant earthworm species in GPM) to assess effects of casting in the absence of other biota. Results suggested that this species has a major influence on flint burial through surface casting. Combined with a long term, but small scale collection of A. longa casts from an area close to GPM, all results were consistent with those provided by Darwin and showed that rate of flint burial was within the range of 0.21–0.96 cm y-1.