If you live in the contiguous United States, chances are you’ve never seen a native earthworm. It also turns out that the invasive European earthworms that have colonized North America for centuries are causing radical changes in the landscape. I regularly speak about the various environmental issues that would be a cause for concern even without global warming, and this is one of them. Invasive species can wreak incredible amounts of damage, and often in ways that no one sees coming. Apparently, the way they’re changing soil structure and chemistry is reducing water availability for native plants, warming the soil, and even contributing to the so-called “insect apocalypse.” While I grew up thinking worms are good for plants, it turns out that the wrong kind of worms can do as much damage in a forest undergrowth as I’ve ever seen from things like garlic mustard or honeysuckle.
Tegan came across this breakdown of where the current frontline of the invasion is and how it deals damage, so I thought I’d share it. There are also a few links above with more information. The first link above indicates that they might help with natural carbon sequestration, but it’s unclear to me how safe that is or how it would balance with the cascading damage caused by their activity. As far as I know, people like us can’t do anything about it right now, but I’ll look out for direct actions that might help. It looks like some forest makeups are hostile to European worms, so maybe there’s a way to do a little ecosystem engineering yourself to fight back. Furthermore, from an ecological point of view, this is one of the many ways that human activities have had a tremendous and fascinating impact on this planet.