When you think of things that “jump,” worms probably don’t come to mind.
Nevertheless, a species of so-called “jumping worms” has leapt onto the scene and this has conservationists concerned about the health of our forests and woodlands.
These jumping worms are a species of earthworms that are voraciously devouring protective forest leaf litter and leaving behind bare, denuded soil. They displace other earthworms, centipedes, salamanders and ground-nesting birds, and disrupt forest food chains. They can invade more than five hectares in a single year, changing soil chemistry and microbial communities as they go. And they don’t even need mates to reproduce!
As reported on the University of Wisconsin, Madison Arboretum website:
“To date, scientists have worried most about the worms’ effects on ground cover. Prior to a jumping worm invasion, the soft layer of decomposing leaves, bark and sticks covering the forest floor might be more than a dozen centimeters thick. What’s left afterward is bare soil with a different structure and mineral content, says Sam Chan, an invasive species specialist with Oregon Sea Grant at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Worms can reduce leaf litter by 95 percent in a single season, he says.
That in turn can reduce or remove the forest understory, providing less nutrients or protection for the creatures that live there or for seedlings to grow. Eventually, different plants come in, usually invasive, nonnative species, says Bradley Herrick, an ecologist and research program manager at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum. And now, new research shows the worms are also changing the soil chemistry and the fungi, bacteria and microbes that live in the soils.”
Originally from Japan and the Korean Peninsula, these worms have now been in the United States for over 100 years. However, in the past 15 years they’ve crawled and wriggled their way to more and more states, broadening their impact. Collectively known as Asian jumping worms, crazy worms, snake worms or Alabama jumpers, they’ve become well established across the South and Mid-Atlantic and have reached parts of the Northeast, Upper Midwest and West.
To read the article in its entirety at the University of Wisconsin, Madison website, click here.