Earthworms are Good - Right?
A new earthworm book by Dr. Cindy Hale of the University of Minnesota questions our assumptions about earthworms and the good they do. Ontario farmers and gardeners recognize earthworms, particularly the dew worm as a sign of healthy, active soil.
However, our earthworms are not native to Ontario; the last glacier wiped them out. The forested area of the Great Lakes developed without earthworms. Our current population of earthworms was brought here by pioneers and immigration, mostly from Europe. Earthworms do help to decompose organic matter, cycle nutrients, stabilize aggregates and particularly in the case of dew worms, improve air and water drainage. These are all important for farm fields. However in the forested areas, their ability to feed on leaf litter and other organic residues on the soil surface is destructive. Recreational fishing gets much of the blame. Leftover bait earthworms are dumped on the side of streams and rivers, allowing the earthworms access to the forested areas and the large amounts of leaf litter on the forest floor.
Cindy Hales' book, Earthworms of the Great Lakes, looks at earthworms in the ecosystem and features beautiful colour pictures to help key out which earthworm you are looking at. The book is an interesting discussion and a good reference on earthworm life cycle, feeding activity and species.
For more information on invasive earthworms check out Cindy's website: http://greatlakeswormwatch.org/ or if you are interested in getting a copy of the book.
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