Page 8 - August 4, 2021
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{ 8 }  SNJ Today  |  AUGUST 4, 2021                                                                                                                                                                                                                            AUGUST 4, 2021  |   { 9 }
                                                                                      THE GREAT OUTDOORS

           MENTAL HEALTH                                                       Real Can of Worms
             URGENT CARE

                                                                                  Non-native earthworms threaten forest health.
            Get the help you need when you
           need it! Mental Health Urgent Care                                  NATURE AROUND US                 J. Morton Galetto, CU Maurice River
          provides adults immediate access to
          services in a welcoming environment.                                      ne might say I opened a can of
                                                                                    worms when I promised to embark
                                                                              Oon a story about earthworms in
                                                                               North America. My discussion in last week’s
              Get Help Today!                                                  story of the eastern mole who can eat its
                                                                               weight in worms daily prompted this topic.
                                                                               The mole also bites the worms’ heads off,
                                                                               rendering them immobile, in order to cache
                                                                               its quarry in an underground storage cham-
                                                                               ber to consume at a later time. More than
                                                                               400 headless worms have been discovered
                                                                               in these chambers in some instances.
                                                                                 So if you grew up learning that earth-
                                                                               worms were the cat’s meow and moles
                                                                               were a neighborhood pest, prepare to have   Try to avoid introducing non-native worms
                                                                               your bubble burst. Like mute swans, night
             1420 Lincoln Ave. | Vineland, NJ 08361                                                                into forested areas. Don’t transplant garden
                                                                               crawlers are exotic invasive species and   plants into forested areas and when using
           856-537-2310 |
                                                                               ecologists are not fond of either. And with   nightcrawlers as bait be careful not to re-
                                                                               good reason.                        lease them into the wild.
                                                                                 I was naïve to the exotic earthworm
                                                                               invasion of North America until a trip to   earthworms north of the glacial bound-
                                                                               Minnesota in 2018. There is actually an   ary are undoubtedly exotic. Soil scientists
                                                                               organization called Great Lakes Worm   hypothesize that native species were
                                                                               Watch that is educating people about taking   extirpated during the glacial period. The
                                                                               care not to introduce earthworms because   glaciers’ southern boundary was in central
                                                                               they change the ecology of an environment.   New Jersey and the sands of the coastal
                                                                                 Experts in soil biology and farming gen-  plain where we live in southern New
                                                                               erally speak of worms in glowing terms.   Jersey are the scourings of the glacial front.
                                                                               Conversely, forest biologists describe inva-  Most of the worms we are familiar with in
                                                                               sive worms as destroying the rich carpet   our gardens—primarily night crawlers, or
                                                                               of organic matter on the forest floor of the   Lumbricus terrestris—were never found nat-
                                                                               Northeastern United States. They have   urally in North America. They are invasive
                                                                               drastically changed the soil by consuming   species, introduced by European settlers.
                                                                               the leaf litter and leaf mold that native oaks   Farmers and the U.S. Department of
                                                                               and forest plants need. Earthworms accel-  Agriculture actively dispense information
                                                                               erate the decomposition that would nor-  about the virtues of earthworms in the
                                                                               mally be accomplished much more slowly   agriculture system because their burrowing
                                                                               by fungi and bacteria; these create a duff   creates holes that accelerate the movement
                                                                               layer important to new growth and spring   of water in soils and help with aeration
                                                                               flowers, and it is an essential blanket in cold   and decompaction of soils. They are major
                                                                               weather.                            decomposers of organic matter, deriving
                                                                                 Worse yet, the compositional changes   nutrition from fungi and bacteria present
                                                                               caused by worms support invasive plants,   on the leaf litter. However forest ecologists
                                                                               allowing them in many cases to outcom-  have a very different view of our wiggly
                                                                               pete natives. Prairie ecologists explain that   subterranean denizens.
                                                                               since the 1850s Euro-American settlers   Peter M. Groffman, a senior scientist
                                                                               have imported trees and earthworms not   at the Institute of Ecosystem Studies,
                                                                               native to North America, thus changing the   Millbrook, NY, explained to Ira Flatow on
                                                                               makeup of forest and prairie soils.  National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation,
                                                                                 In the Northeastern United States any   “Sometimes we might find actually more
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