Most of us dont pay much attention to earthworms but maybe we should. New research suggests that non-native earthworms are radically changing the forest floor in the northern U.S., threatening the goblin fern and other rare plants in the process.
This is "the first research to show that exotic earthworms are harmful to rare native vegetation in northern forests," says Michael Gundale of Michigan Technological University in Houghton, who presents this work in the December issue of Conservation Biology.
About 10,000 years ago, glaciers pushed the range of North American earthworms southward and today the only earthworms found in most of Minnesota are non-native species introduced from Europe. Some of these earthworms eat the top part of the soil (a layer of decomposing litter called the forest floor) and this could endanger the goblin fern, a rare species that grows mostly underground.
Found only in the upper Great Lakes region, goblin ferns live between the forest floor and the underlying mineral soil. Because these tiny ferns only send up leaves briefly during the summer (and often dont emerge at all), they are thought to get some of their energy from fungi in the forest floor instead of by photosynthesizing.
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