ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How Does Biological Weathering Happen?

Updated on August 3, 2012

Weathering is the process through which rocks, soils, minerals, and other materials are broken down through contact with physical or atmospheric forces, such as pressure and heat, or chemical forces, such as acids. Similar to erosion, weathering can result in caverns, caves, burrows, and other unique rock formations. Biological weathering is a form of both physical and chemical weathering wherein living organisms directly and indirectly cause the decomposition the rock and other materials. Weathering is critical in the movement of nutrients and groundwater, as we'll see a bit later. Common inducers of biological weathering include animals, plants, and strange organisms called lichens.

How Animals Affect Weathering:

A lot of animals physically weather rocks and rock particles. Gophers for example, break apart the earth when they bore underground, separating rock compounds to dig tunnels. Other animals like worms and termites also decompose rocks and minerals in the same fashion. Animal death serves as an indirect form of biological weathering. When animals die, they decay, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This carbon dioxide can then combine with water to form carbonic acid, a chemical capable of decomposing minerals.

Plant roots are arguably the most significant cause of biological weathering due to their widespread impact on the earth’s soil.

How Plants Affect Weathering:

Plants weather the earth in a similar way to animals, their roots often being to blame. Plant roots bore into the earth in the same way gophers and worms do, physically shattering rocks and creating cracks throughout the ground. In addition, many plants release acidic and chelating compounds (like organic acids) in order to break down metal-containing particles in the soil. Plants also produce organic acids when they decay, causing further decomposition.

This grassy substance is actually a group of lichens.
This grassy substance is actually a group of lichens. | Source

How Lichens Affect Weathering:

Lichens are composite organisms. This means that lichens consist of two individual organisms that coexist with each other in a symbiotic relationship. Lichens usually consist of fungi and either algae or cyanobacteria (a bacteria that undergoes photosynthesis like plants). Lichens contains microscopic filaments that find their way into small cracks between rocks, repeatedly engorging and shrinking to increase the size of the gaps. This allows more lichens to enter and continue creating fissures in the rock. Lichens also produce oxalic acid, which siphons calcium carbonate from within the rock to its surface and replacing it with a weaker compound, thereby making it easier for the rock to erode. The calcium carbonate is then easily washed away by rain.

This sandstone formation, known as "tafoni," is the result of thousands of years of complex weathering processes.
This sandstone formation, known as "tafoni," is the result of thousands of years of complex weathering processes. | Source


Biological weathering sounds an awful lot like erosion, but there is a key difference between the two. Erosion is when the earth’s surface is worn away by moving factors, like running water or wind. Weathering, on the other hand, is a stationary process.

Why Does It Matter?

Biological weathering, and weathering in general, is a crucial process to life on Earth. When rocks are broken down physically or chemically, nutrient rich minerals are released, nourishing plants. Often the types of plants growing in a certain area depend on how the rock and soil have been weathered. The water cycle is also heavily influenced by biological weathering. Agents of biological weathering, plant roots especially, create crevices and tunnels that act as paths used in natural water filtration, cleaning the groundwater that many organisms depend on. As seen with the gopher burrows, biological weathering is an excellent way to create suitable habitats for many creatures; burrows for gophers, caverns for bats, small crevices for plants and lichens - weathering provides all of these diverse homes for the equally diverse organisms that dwell within them.

A Quick Example:

Weathering Quiz:

view quiz statistics


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Kaili Bisson profile image

      Kaili Bisson 

      8 years ago from Canada

      I really like the connection to plants and animals, and the impact they have. Really well researched and written!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 

      8 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Interesting! I love the photos you chose, too. Well done!

    • klanguedoc profile image

      Kevin Languedoc 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Great information Btryon86. I have learn something new. You have presented the information in a very well structured way and have explained the concept of erosion and weathering in way that makes it understandable to everyone.

    • JoyZoeJoy profile image


      8 years ago

      Very informative for anyone interested in why our planet looks like it does.

    • Btryon86 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thanks, I really appreciate the input! It's not something I really knew about until I started researching, but I'm glad I can spread the knowledge now!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very informative and very interesting! I am not a huge science buff; however, it is importance to know the difference between erosion and weathering as you did. Great job!

      Voted up, useful, and interesting!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)