Southern French worms wriggle as far north as Ireland

July 25, 2012
Women plow on a farm in June 2012 on land in southwestern France. A community of French earthworms has been discovered stealthily colonising a farm in Ireland, possibly aided by global warming to thrive so far north of their natural habitat, a study said.

A community of French earthworms has been discovered stealthily colonising a farm in Ireland, possibly aided by global warming to thrive so far north of their natural habitat, a study said.

No clash seems to be looming as the French worms prefer to eat a different part of the soil as their Irish cousins, according to a report Wednesday in the Royal Society Journal Biology Letters.

But their picky palate may hold another danger -- possibly unleashing Earth-warming left hitherto undisturbed by the native worms.

Scientists studying on a farm in Dublin last year, discovered "abundant populations" of a endemic to France's Aquitaine region more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) to the south.

Some also live naturally in northern Spain, Sardinia and parts of northern Africa.

These are the first earthworms from southern Europe ever reported to have settled in previously glaciated areas to the north.

"The surprising aspects are that we found worms doing so well far away from their native range and that they have become established at all here in spite of the different climate and the fact that we already have lots of earthworm species," study co-author Olaf Schmidt of University College Dublin told AFP.

"It is tempting to speculate that such a southern species can only survive farther north since the climate is changing," he said, stressing further research was needed to confirm this.

It was not known exactly how the worms travelled to Ireland -- they were probably hidden in the roots a batch of plants delivered across the channel.

On their own, earthworms can spread by about 10 metres a year, said Schmidt, and this colony was believed to have been on the farm for several years.

The French worms were found in six different areas of the farm, several hundred meters apart, feeding on different parts of the soil than the local residents.

"If the newcomers expand their range and population sizes, they could assimilate and hence liberate carbon sources in soils that would stay locked up ... when only native species are present," Schmidt said.

The worms ingest the carbon as organic matter, and then eject it as Earth-warming CO2.

"However, it could also be that this new species makes a positive contribution to soil structure maintenance, nutrient cycling and so on," said Schmidt. "We need more research to find out."

Explore further: Non-native earthworms are damaging hardwood forests

Related Stories

Non-native earthworms are damaging hardwood forests

September 13, 2011

Think of earthworms and a few things come to mind: they make great bait for fishing, they aerate the soil, and they're an excellent addition to a compost pile. But what a lot of people don't know is many earthworms are actually ...

Forests under threat from exotic earthworm invasion

September 1, 2011

It is widely acknowledged that human beings are largely responsible for the widespread alteration of ecosystems on the planet. A recent study by Dara Seidl and Peter Klepeis of Colgate University in New York traces the ways ...

Idaho scientists find fabled worm

April 27, 2010

(AP) -- Two living specimens of the fabled giant Palouse earthworm have been captured for the first time in two decades, University of Idaho scientists revealed on Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Researchers identify genes that give cannabis its flavor

March 29, 2017

UBC scientists have scanned the genome of cannabis plants to find the genes responsible for giving various strains their lemony, skunky or earthy flavors, an important step for the budding legal cannabis industry.

A bird's blind spot plays an important role in its vision

March 29, 2017

The width of a bird's visual binocular field is partially determined by the size of the blind area in front of its head, according to a study published March 29, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Luke Tyrrell and ...

Cats found to like humans more than thought

March 29, 2017

(Phys.org)—A trio of researchers with Oregon State University and Monmouth University has conducted experiments with cats, and has found that they appear to like humans more than expected. In their paper published in the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.