Worm Invasion

When we think of earthworms many of us think of them as being beneficial in nature – even if a bit icky. However the arrival of dendrobaeana octaedra or the octagonal-tail worm in the boreal forest of Northern Alberta is not a welcome one. The boreal forests hasn’t seen any native worm life since the last ice age, 11, 000 years ago.

D. octaedra eats leaves that fall to the forest floor. The worms burrow beneath the surface where they mix different layers of soil and change the soil pH. Ultimately, these changes alter how organic and inorganic matter decomposes and result in fewer small invertebrates in the soil. Other types of worms have even been found to cause native plants living on the forest floor to die and birds that nest there to lose their habitat.

The ongoing research project at The Ohio State University, the University of Alberta and Simon Fraser University uses statistical analysis to forecast one worm species’ spread, in hopes of finding ways to curtail it.

Researchers want a more accurate picture of the spread, which is happening partially underground and is not easy to observe or analyze. One of the teams findings about how the worm is able to spread to new areas so easily is that the eggs of the worm are tiny enough to travel in tire tread – they get caught there as visitors drive over forest floor. They were able to come to this conclusion by finding that often the worms seemed to enter the forest near roadways.

Researchers are hoping to curtail the invasion because these boreal forests are too important to loose. The forests account for 1/3rd of forested land on Earth – so both the loss of the trees themselves along with other plant and animal life is a major concern.