Invaders from Beyond

INVASION!! Yes my friend exotic aliens have invaded our beloved country; and like any paranoid alien lover, they have been amongst us for 100’s of Years. This exotic invader from beyond is none other than the earthworm. Yes damn their garden making, soil churning, decomposing help. On a more serious note the current earthworms that are found in our everyday soil are actually European species that were brought here by early settlers.

  It Cant be! But it is, Scientist predict that earthworms were either nonexistent in North America or were wiped out 12000 years ago during the Ice Ages. Subsequently native plant species and organism developed alternative methods for decomposing and renewing the soil. These subterranean invaders have lent a hand to gardeners but also disrupted the native ecosystems across North America and have even assisted the growth and development of other exotic species.

Mind Boggling? No, just remember before Europeans the plains of America were roamed by many species of wild cat, buffalo and strange other creatures. Horses and many other species of animal and plant life didn’t exist.  Worms have disrupted the natural environment and forest across the continent. Once mighty Ferns and wild flowers are dying off in the American wilderness, and in their place new species sprout.

So as the worms cultivate the land, they alter it and make it habitable for other exotic species.  These species again displace even more species until what remains is a totally Alien environment. New plants have disrupted ecosystems far and wide. In India Australian Eucalyptuses trees have caused soil erosion, leaching and flooding. In The Great lakes species such as sea lamprey and Zebra mussels destroy fish populations, cause algae blooms and die offs, throwing the ecosystem out of whack.

Now that we know what these foreigners are about let’s see what we can do to stop them. Nothing about sums it up, once here these species are all but impossible to get rid of. Imagine digging up every square inch of ground, and hundreds of feet down to eradicate the mighty earth worm. Implausible! but even if we managed to rid ourselves of these helpful buggers the soil wouldn’t be the same.

Hey remember when I said we can’t do anything, well that’s only part true, we can stop the further contamination of exotic species by changing our habits. If we use local plants, soil and worms when we do our activities such as gardening and fishing we can successfully curtail the spread of anymore invasive species.   Gardner’s, my mother included love these guys, young boys ( Me included) love to find and fish with these.

 Farmers too enjoy all the benefits provided by these critters, as they break larger dead plant material into smaller bits that can be digested by microorganisms.  If the earthworm were to disappear today, nutrients in the soil would stagnate and find themselves trapped in dead pockets. What about the plants that used to decompose the earth? Well some of them are still around, but they simply aren’t abundant enough to do the job of the worm. In addition  the soil, plants and crops life of today differs greatly from what was once plentiful.

I’d like to introduce you to a different species of worm, so you don’t think there all the same. The Asian earthworm or jumping worm “are among the most reviled earthworms in America. Called “jumpers,” they can thrash, whip around and jump, clearing a few inches at a time. Introduced from Asia, these earthworms became established in parts of the United States by the late 1800s. Composters and fishermen use and sell them.”  Scientist, farmers and millipedes alike hate these guys. These aren’t the worms you want in your garden, they eat more than their fair share, while millipedes compete for the same food source, thus reducing their population.

The earthworm has made farm life in America possible, if the Europeans hadn’t accidently introduced them it may not be possible to sustain life in America. Certain plants are greedy, and hold the soil hostage for nutrients. Worms like to recycle and give back, with smart farming practices such as crop rotation and allowing the ground to lay fallow we in America have managed to avoid soil from becoming infertile. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it means you’d be starved, dying or dead.

The invaders from Europe made it possible for native European plants to flourish in American soil. Plants such as “oats , rye ,legumes such as peas, apples, pears, plums and cherries. Grapes, raspberries and blackberries.” That’s not all, vegetables too, such as “lettuce, carrot, parsnip, cabbage, beets, celery, leek , asparagus” While I can’t stand half of the vegetable list, that’s certainly quite a contribution. All of these species would not be possible in  America without the assistance of the worm.  While the diversity of European plant life is extensive, we in the 21st century consume food from all over the world. Some we even grow right here, but as we import more exotic species we change the ecosystem, one which has developed carefully over millions of years. This invasion essentially takes Darwin’s survival of the fittest and give some species guns and bombs while others huddle up.

Hey wait a minute, I’ve seen birds eat worms! Indeed some species adapt, and some such as the European blackbird are from Europe. In fact Darwin alluded to this evolution, or gradual change over time, he suggested that species must adapt of die, and here in North America that is exactly what has happened. In some places native species are all but extinct and in others, hybrids of foreign and native born species grow over the landscape. They have the best advantages of both worlds, and this is in part due to our friends, the worms. So next time you’re in the garden, supermarket or about to eat, think where did this food come from? And what path did it take to get here? Bon Appetit My friends

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