December 20, 2021

Holes left by Brood X cicadas can help water flow in the soil

Article origination Indiana Public Media
Brood X cicada nymphs emerging from holes in the ground in Maryland, May 2021.  - Kiraface/Wikimedia Commons

Brood X cicada nymphs emerging from holes in the ground in Maryland, May 2021.

Kiraface/Wikimedia Commons

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Long after the Brood X cicadas were gone, those small burrow holes they left behind were still having an impact on the soil. That’s according to a recent study by the Indiana University Department of Geography.

IU researchers said those holes actually help water to infiltrate the soil more easily in natural areas like a forest. Research assistant Ellen Bergan said that can help bring more nutrients down to plants’ roots and prevent runoff — improving the water quality of rivers and lakes nearby.

“If you can have higher infiltration rates into the soil, then less water typically is going to be, you know, just going off the surface," they said.

READ MORE: Brood X has arrived in Indiana. What now?

But when researchers looked at places where there are more people — like city parks, IU’s campus and the edge of farm fields — they were surprised. Bergan said those soils were just too compacted to have much of an effect.

“So that shows that the signal of human disturbance kind of overrides any sort of the impact that those tunnels could have had," they said.

Bergan said replacing some of those lawns with native plants and doing less plowing and mowing could improve the soil — and the cicadas would probably like it too.

Contact reporter Rebecca at or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.

Copyright 2021 Indiana Public Media. To see more, visit Indiana Public Media.
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