Haven’t we gardeners learned that worms are beneficial to the earth? And they’re good for the ecosystem, right? They provide aeration and drainage in the garden. They break down plant matter and leave behind healthy castings are rich in nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. I‘ve always reburied these good little soldiers that I’ve disturbed in the garden because they’re beneficial. However, that’s not the case in the natural New England forests that surround us.
Years ago, I learned from my sister who is a curator at Historic Jamestown in Virginia that most of our earthworms in the US are non-native, the offspring of European earthworms brought by British colonists in the 1600’s. And there were no worms at all north of Pennsylvania then. Glaciers wiped them out. Our natural North American forests that have existed ‘wormless’ are now dealing with a harmful soil ecosystem due to European worms that slowly moved north over hundreds of years.
Worms have been altering the physical properties of the forest soil by devouring leaf litter causing water runoff, drier soil and poor soil chemistry. Biologists are studying the long-term effects on native undergrowth, too. Natives are disappearing and invasive plants and grasses that can survive the loss of leaf litter and dry soil are moving in.
Just as we’re digesting that European worm information, we learn about another worm invader in New England forests…. the Asian jumping worm that other garden bloggers and cooperative extensions are writing about. A voracious eater that lives in the top layer of soil, this worm devours the organic layer faster than other worms and it displaces those European worms in place. When exposed, these worms are more snake-like and wiggligy in movements. I’m watching for them in my garden in New Hampshire. We’re instructed to report any sightings to our local cooperative extension. Oh dear….
See Jumping Worm