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  • Bernadette Williams Wisconsin DNR Forestry Division

  • Pioneers in the colonization and preparation of the land, they pre-date the invasion by fungi, land plants, insects (400 to 500 million years), dinosaurs and mammals (200 million years), and hominids (4 million years). They are ubiquitous in all but the driest of regions and the present day world distribution of roughly 7000 species in 18 families.

  • Earthworm Functional Groups

    epigeic - litter dweller

    endogeic - topsoil dweller

    anecic - subsoil dweller

  • Earthworms are promiscuous, polygamous, hermaphrodites but some can reproduce parthenogenetically.

  • Worms eat dirt. They are detritivorous where they

    feed on decaying organic matter (leaf litter) and geophageous (dirt) and feed mainly in the soil layers.

  • A layer of dark, fertile humus made of rotting plants lies at the soil’s surface. Underneath, the topsoil contains plant roots, and plant and animal remains that bacteria and fungi are helping to rot down. The subsoil contains fewer plant and animal remains but has plenty of minerals washed down from the layers above. Below are rock fragments, then solid bedrock.

  • Changes to the Soil Environment

    Influence the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the soil through: • Burrowing • Casting • Feeding • Mucus secretion Death/decomposition

    The effects of the above depends on the functional group of earthworms.

  • Changes to the Soils Physical and Biological Properties


    • Mixing of the soil profile • Incorporation of organic

    materials • Water infiltration & holding capacity • Soil aeration • Soil erosion • Soil structure & aggregate formation Biological • Micro-organisms • Nematodes • Food source for birds and

    mammals • Plant productivity

  • Earthworms in Sugar Maple Forests

    • Loss of the duff layer is the most important impact in sugar maple forests

    • Earthworm droppings

    denser than the native soils compacting the forest floor rather than aerate it.

    • Research shows degraded root structures and fewer sugar maples in forests infested with earthworms. (*slight variation depending on worm species and functional group)

  • Healthy vs. Unhealthy Forest Floor and Soil.

    Earthworms have considerable capacity to change the nature of their environment to suit their survival. Ecological requirements (moisture, temperature, and food supply) greatly influence the rates of reproduction and growth.

  • Healthy, undisturbed forests are typically dynamic ecosystems anchored in a complex soil structure that teems with macro- and microscopic life and the key to health in our state’s forest resides in a rich fungal based soil that slowly decomposes its organic matter.

  • There is a nutrient balance between the vegetation above ground and below the leaf litter on the forest floor. When a forest becomes heavily infested with earthworms the leaf litter is depleted and the soil is now vulnerable to invasive species which in turn causes a decrease in the diversity of native plants and animals.

  • Earthworm Invasion


    • Source Population • Human Activity • Natural Expansion

    • Forest Edges • Rivers Streams

    Resource Quantity • Plant Productivity

    • Soil & Organic Matter

    Physical Effects • Burrowing & Casting • Loss of Leaf Litter • Soil Aggregates

    • Porosity • Hydrology • Erosion

    Resource Quality • Vegetation Type • Litter C&N Ratio

    • Tannins, Polyphenotics Soil Factors

    • Moisture Hydrology • Texture, Sand/Silt/Clay

    • Acidity

    Geochemical Effects • Mixing Soil Layers

    • Mineral Weathering • Change of Mineralogy

    Biological Effects • Change in Soil Habitat • Faster Nutrient Cycling • Less Fungally Dominated

    • Fewer Mycorrhizae • Change in Rooting Zone

    • Altered Seedbed

    Ecological Consequences

    Ecosystem Properties • Carbon Loss (short term) • Carbon Stabilization (long term) • Nitrogen Retention? • TREE NUTRITION • TREE REGENERATION

    Ecological Communities • Invasive Plant Invasions • Loss of Native Plant Communities • Soil Invertebrate Community Shifts • Microbial Community Shifts

    Presenter Presentation Notes 

  • Predation Earthworms have many, many predators (eg. Bears, foxes, moles, birds, snakes,

    frogs, fishes, insects, ants, leeches, planarian flatworms, and even a few cannibalistic earthworms; in addition parasites (eg. Flies, helminthes, nematodes, protozoans,

    bacteria, and viruses).

    Hunger, W. Sevenoh

  • What YOU Can Do to HELP!

    While we don’t have a way of ridding the forests of worms once they are established, we can keep them from spreading to forests that are not yet invaded.

    • Don’t release live bait on land or in the water

    • Dispose of live worms in the trash.

    • Avoid introducing worms and their eggs

    (vermicomposting) to native landscapes. Earthworm-free areas still exist.

    • Wash your shoes and tire treads.


    Keep Worms out of Wisconsin’s Woods!


  • Slide Number 1 Slide Number 2 Few native earthworms exist in the northern-most reaches of the continental United States. Most species were forced south in the last major glaciation, which ended 10,000 years ago Slide Number 4 Earthworm Biology Earthworm Ecology EARTHWORMS AFFECT SOIL LAYERS Slide Number 8 Slide Number 9 Slide Number 10 Slide Number 11 Slide Number 12 Presently in Wisconsin we have documented a handful of earthworm free sites on state lands ranging from 40 acres to 5 and these occurrence's provide us with a snapshot of species diversity and regeneration in the absence of earthworms. Slide Number 14 Slide Number 15 Once earthworms are established detrimental monocultures conditions become apparent . Slide Number 17 Slide Number 18 Slide Number 19 We are all worms. But I do believe that I am a glow-worm.�� Winston Churchill