Thursday, December 14, 2006

Invasive Earthworms

Its in the news. Research shows that invasive earthworms are damaging forest soils and are a menace to species diversity. Brought to light in November, 2002, gardening experts have confirmed the concern and the news keeps spreading. Fortunate for inquiring minds, self-archived copies of published journal articles are available. The problem is most often associated with formerly glaciated regions, where native populations of earthworms are not present. One work has a general map of affected locations (can compare to map here).

Another work addresses damage to soil. Comparing soil in front of the invaders to post invasion conditions demonstrates that these worms cause soil compaction, reduce soil fertility, increase erosion. Alterations in the soil profile include thickening of A horizons and obliteration of E horizons. I am still processing this information, but it appears that these invaders are capable of alterations deep enough into the soil profile to result in a change in soil taxonomic classification at the order level.

What looks to be one of the more prominent invasive species, Lumbricus rubellus showed up in my maple leaf compost (now vermicompost). I can confirm that L. rubellus is voracious. I remember a shovel slice of some nearby soil that went in a week or so before L. rubellus showed so my guess is they came with the place. L. rubellus operates on the surface litter and organic material found where that layer rests on the mineral soil. There are strong indications that L. rubellus supplements its leafy diet by feeding on the fungi and bacteria in the rhizosphere of plant roots. Seeing first hand how these critters operate, I find this last aspect quite disturbing. With its carbon sequestration function and the highly mutualistic species that it supports, this planet needs all the rhizospheric biological capacity it can muster.

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