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Alberta braces for earthworm invasion this spring

Digital writers

Tuesday, January 28, 2014, 4:18 PM -

This spring, an earthworm invasion poised to take place in parts of Alberta -- particularly the province's northern forests -- and that has researchers at the University of Alberta concerned.

"Most people think earthworms are good for soil but that’s not true in all cases," the University writes.

"Research shows that small mammals, birds, salamanders, invertebrates, and plants can be harmed by earthworm invasions in forests.

Earthworms are helpful in farms and gardens because they promote nutrient cycling and soil structure development by breaking down organic material. In forests, these same activities can harm organisms that rely on a thick leaf litter layer on the forest floor. Depending on the earthworm species that invades, the entire leaf litter layer may be removed following an invasion."

File photo courtesy of sxc.hu

File photo courtesy of sxc.hu

There are no native earthworms in most of Canada and the northern U.S. -- nearly all were wiped out during the last ice age some 11,000 years ago.

European and Asian earthworms have been imported into Canada through plant soil and as leftover fishing bait. Experts say there are at least 14 species on non-native earthworms in Alberta, with the first spotted in the foothills in the mid-1980s.

To combat the spread, the University of Alberta has launched the Alberta Worm Invasion Project in hopes of educating the public and recruiting volunteers that can collect earthworm data.

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Alberta isn't the only province on earthworm alert.

Dozens of European and Asian species have been found across the country, extending as far out as the Yukon.

In Ontario, they cover much of the province.


Here are a few ways you can help stop the spread of earthworms, courtesy of the university of Alberta:

1. Don’t dump earthworm bait on land or in water (earthworms can survive in water for days). Instead, save it for your next trip or throw it in the garbage. 

2. Clean the tire treads on your vehicle or ATV when moving to a new location in order to remove earthworms and cocoons.

3. Avoid moving leaves, mulch, or soil between sites unless you are sure they do not contain earthworms or cocoons.

4. If you use earthworms for composting and live in a remote area, freeze the compost for a week to a month before using it outside. This should kill the earthworms and their cocoons.

You can also help scientists learn more about the distribution of earthworms in Canada by reporting invasions to Canada Worm Watch.

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