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Earthworms Handicap Forests??

Diego Footer


Joined: Nov 29, 2011
Posts: 159
Location: San Diego, CA
    
  20
I recently came across this article, Earthworms ruin nutrients, moisture on forest floor, say researchers. The basic arguments are that earthworms cycle nutrients too fast, create bare soil, and drain off surface water. I am not an expert on forests, but I am finding this to be a tough cookie to eat. Maybe I am too much of a worm lover, but I thought that earthworms generally create more pluses than minuses. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Is this an actual problem or is this the case of looking for a problem where one doesn't exist?


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Dale Hodgins
pollinator

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 3859
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
    
  54
Exotic worms have completely altered the natural environment in the area of Southern Ontairio where I was raised. Many areas that had deep, organic layers have seen thinning. Skunks and raccoons feed on worms, so they have been big winners in the transition of farm and wild lands. Larger birds like crows and the exotic European starling have benefited at the expense of many small insectavores. When not eating worms, these large birds often engage in nest raiding.

I have a relative who controls skunk and raccoon populations and he raises sheep. A sheep pasture can sustain massive worm populations. He gathers the big night crawlers which are sold throughout Canada and the northern states. He tells me that the only place in the world with more worm tonnage per acre is the Nile delta. I have filled a coffee can while working only the area around one kneeling position. These worms are shipped live and fishermen haul them into the wilderness where spillage and other means of escape,introduce them to new forests.

Only another ice age or the widespread use of something awful will stop the slow march of earthworms into every wild area.

Monsanto makes several products which are known to kill earthworms but that is definately not the way to go.


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Jami McBride
volunteer

Joined: Aug 29, 2009
Posts: 1779
    
  10
I'm not completely up on this negative earthworm/forest claim, but I have some thoughts...

This comes back to the fact that not all forests are the same, each type is a precise eco system, and adding any not native species will affect the system to change. Your personal point of view will then make the choice of whether the change is good or bad.

Now the debate on invasives comes to my mind - when one calls something 'bad' and another sees the benefits it brings, or when ones says this change is bad and another says eco systems change all the time (which is true) but so slowly we rarely see it. And when the 'change' is fast we only see the destruction of the old and not the building of the new. No right or wrong here just two points of view.

So earthworms are great, but are they great everywhere? Apparently not when you want a system to change not

But the question I like most is - will they be able to (naturally) stop the earthworms, I doubt it.

Your post seems to be in doubt of the truth of the article. There are places, certain eco systems that don't employ earthworms, I know it's hard to believe, boggles the mind. The article is true.
However I think we should keep in mind that all systems have their purpose, and many are not set up to support a lot of large mammals, or what we call food vegetation. And maybe places that do make for great food-forests always have earthworms *grin*
Fred Morgan
steward

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 972
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
    
  12
If I don't have my facts wrong, the night crawlers of the North are not native.


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Diego Footer


Joined: Nov 29, 2011
Posts: 159
Location: San Diego, CA
    
  20
Jami McBride wrote:I'm not completely up on this negative earthworm/forest claim, but I have some thoughts...

This comes back to the fact that not all forests are the same, each type is a precise eco system, and adding any not native species will affect the system to change. Your personal point of view will then make the choice of whether the change is good or bad.

Now the debate on invasives comes to my mind - when one calls something 'bad' and another sees the benefits it brings, or when ones says this change is bad and another says eco systems change all the time (which is true) but so slowly we rarely see it. And when the 'change' is fast we only see the destruction of the old and not the building of the new. No right or wrong here just two points of view.

So earthworms are great, but are they great everywhere? Apparently not when you want a system to change not

But the question I like most is - will they be able to (naturally) stop the earthworms, I doubt it.

Your post seems to be in doubt of the truth of the article. There are places, certain eco systems that don't employ earthworms, I know it's hard to believe, boggles the mind. The article is true.
However I think we should keep in mind that all systems have their purpose, and many are not set up to support a lot of large mammals, or what we call food vegetation. And maybe places that do make for great food-forests always have earthworms *grin*


Good points. I wasn't questioning the truth of the article. I was more questioning how bad are they actually. But like you said some say the changes are good, some say the changes are bad. Cheers
Dale Hodgins
pollinator

Joined: Jul 28, 2011
Posts: 3859
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
    
  54
Fred Morgan wrote:If I don't have my facts wrong, the night crawlers of the North are not native.


They originate in Europe. About 30% of N. American worm species are exotic. Exotics are dominant in all of the richer agricultural soils so they represent an even larger proportion of the total worm count.

In forests, litter depth and therefore moisture holding capacity are reduced. Soils become thinner, drier and brighter. The lack of accumulated litter affects the many other agents of decay and the creatures who feed on them.

Canadas boreal forests contain aprox. the same amount of accumulated carbon as all of the earths tropical forests combined. The boreal forest of Europe and Asia contan about the same amount. Most of this carbon is in the form of peat and other dead debris on the forest floor. Worms accelerate the decomposition of this accumulation as they stir the soil and increase aeration at depth. Peat soils are able to accumulate because of growth rates which exceed the rate of decomposition and because they have naturally poor aeration. It is concievable that in the long run, worms will contribute more to atmospheric carbon than cattle and all other domestic animals combined.

Worms make their own environment in many ways. By increasing aeration and water percolation, they help to warm northern soils and to cause the breakdown of woody materials into particle sizes more acceptable to worms. With the melting of permafrost and the northern movement of agriculture, human activity favours the worms.
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6499
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
133
I know that parts of Michigan are having problems with the introduced worms 'destroying' forests. Fishermen are being blamed for the importation.
I believe they have new laws there to control the problem.
Chris MacCarlson


Joined: Sep 02, 2010
Posts: 56
Location: Missoula
    
    1
In Hawaii, it was a combination of 2 invasive species (earthworms and pigs) that were destroying forests. I had my best look at it in the upper montane (6000' ) wet (2000 cm rain) forest. The pigs would root around in the soil to get at the earthworms, disturbing any small seedlings rooted in the soil, and also cause extra erosion by destroying vegetation cover. The pigs would also knock over young tree ferns and eat out the spongy center pith, before leaving to gorge themselves on guava. Ok, so the earthworms don't look so bad in this situation, but the point is extra protein in an ecosystem can have cascading effects regardless of what the worms themselves do.
Andrew Ash


Joined: Apr 16, 2012
Posts: 24
Location: Chuluota, Florida
Quick question, which needs a quick answer; Does anyone know how to kill compost worms in compost, without destroying at least most of the nutrients in the compost?
Bob Segraves-Collis


Joined: Apr 17, 2012
Posts: 7
Andrew,

For the most part, if you allow the compost to dry out completely the worms will die a slow death. Some few egg sacks my remain, but they will be slow to repopulate.
Andrew Ash


Joined: Apr 16, 2012
Posts: 24
Location: Chuluota, Florida
Bob Segraves-Collis wrote:Andrew,

For the most part, if you allow the compost to dry out completely the worms will die a slow death. Some few egg sacks my remain, but they will be slow to repopulate.


Slow to repopulate is still repopulating, and I'm looking for a complete-kill...
Also, I just confirmed that they've been released into the forest, so now I have to find some kind of biological control that won't, at least permanently, damage the local ecology...
Diego Footer


Joined: Nov 29, 2011
Posts: 159
Location: San Diego, CA
    
  20
Andrew Ash wrote:Quick question, which needs a quick answer; Does anyone know how to kill compost worms in compost, without destroying at least most of the nutrients in the compost?


Curious as to why you would want to do this?
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6499
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
133
I have never heard of anybody trying to get rid of worms in compost...(they're half the reason we make compost!)

But if you had a need to do so, I would suggest letting a flock of poultry loose on the pile.
Rake the pile every morning, and the birds will finish off the job.

Donovan Wentworth


Joined: Apr 14, 2012
Posts: 14
Location: Michigan - Zone 6a-5b
This website explains the issue rather well.

Nothing is ever innately good or bad, and earth worms are no exception. Things can be good if they're in the right place at the right time to achieve your personal goals, which earth worms often are when it comes to composting and vegetable gardening. However, if you're trying to build a productive forest ecosystem with American plant species, you might not have any use for them as they will eat away at the valuable duff layer and possibly make the soil unsuitable.

The silver lining is that earth worm populations expand at an extremely slow rate on their own, so they really only populate areas where they have been dumped by humans. Scientists' main strategy at this point is to prevent fishermen from dumping their unused bait in uninvaded areas.

One study has found that the presence of honeysuckle and buckthorn correlates with high earth worm populations, and that removing those plants will reduce the number of earth worms. On the other hand, though, the biomass of the worms was not greatly reduced--in other words, the big fat worms persisted while the smaller, weaker ones died off. The effect of earth worms on North American forests is a recent topic of study (just the past few years, actually), so there's a lot more to learn about it.

Someday I hope to be able to buy a former field of Monsanto Franken-corn/soy and rehabilitate it into a permaculture garden built primarily with native plants. Maybe the lack of earthworms in those tilled-and-sprayed farm fields will be a blessing in disguise.
 
 
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