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July 25, 2014

Responding to a shock to the system: the Asian crazy worm

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Something unexpected recently wriggled its way into the Yahara Watershed: the Asian crazy worm (Amynthas agrestis). This hungry invasive species could potentially change the region’s soil, which has implications for water quality and quantity and other ecosystem services.

For this reason, WSC scientists Monica Turner and Jiangxiao Qiu are conducting experiments to understand how the worm could affect the Yahara’s soils.

Understanding how a new invasive species could affect ecosystems, as well as how it could interact with other change drivers, such as climate and land-use change, will help us anticipate future conditions for the watershed and southern Wisconsin.

For example, Qiu and Turner will determine if and how the worm could impact the region’s various soil systems—prairie, forest and agricultural—and whether any of these soils are resistant to the invader’s effects. These potential effects could have implications for ecosystem management into the future.

Turner and Qiu suspect the worm, a voracious eater, could alter soil nutrients, soil texture, and vegetation. Whether such alterations could degrade soils in ways that might affect water quality in lakes and streams is not known.

“Being nimble, so that we can respond quickly to new ‘shocks’ to the system, is a big advantage in our research program,” said Turner. She explained that the extent of the invasion and the magnitude of the ecological effects are still unpredictable.

The worm was first discovered in the UW Arboretum in fall of 2013. It is believed to have arrived via plants imported for landscaping from its native territories, Japan and the Korean Peninsula. UW Communications profiled its invasion in more detail in a July 15th article.