If Hollywood has taught us one thing, it’s that when it comes to an invasion (alien or otherwise), the United States is excellent at opening a family sized can of whoop ass. However the US is now facing a new alien threat, one that is releasing more carbon into the atmosphere, damaging the country’s woodland nitrogen cycle and undermining native plant species. That’s right, the USA is under attack from earthworms – alien earthworms.

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Now, when I say ‘alien’, I should be clear that these are not extra-terrestrial earthworms, but non-native species. That’s right – species, as in plural. According to Colgate University, the invading earthworms are Lumbricus rubellus (red earthworm) and Lumbricus terrestris (common earthworm).

The red earthworm is used in the breaking down of compost heaps, but it has spread due to the increase in fishing bait disposal. This has led to “widespread and scattered exotic earthworm introduction in remote areas”.

Meanwhile Lumbricus terrestris (common earthworm) is native to Europe, but over the years it has thrived in North America (spread by international soil shipping and vehicle tyres) and is now threatening native flora and fauna. However scientists are more concerned with the fact that the worms are increasing soil erosion, and as a result releasing more carbon into the atmosphere.

In an article published in the journal Human Ecology, the Colgate University researchers said: “The presence of earthworms in temperate hardwood forests may accelerate the decomposition of forest litter, which potentially reduces habitat for forest-floor animals, (increases) soil erosion… and affects carbon and nitrogen cycles.”

Shockingly, the scientists believe that soil erosion could see the amount of carbon stored in soil reduced by up to 28%. The worms also eat fallen leaves, reducing the amount of food that mammals, birds and assorted plant species rely on. Earthworms are also causing problems on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, where the common earthworm is competing against the Australian flatworm.

Perhaps our countries’ politicians should start focusing on the real illegal aliens threatening our national security – earthworms (though it should be noted that are also extremely useful at cleaning up hazardous toxins).

+ Colgate University

Via BBC News

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