A University of Alberta research team has some simple advice for Albertans bound for the lake, campground or remote areas this summer: wrangle your worms.
Researchers from the U of A’s faculties of science and education have teamed up to create the Alberta Worm Invasion Tracker, an online resource and mobile app that allows the public to record worm locations as they’re discovered.
The citizen science project is part of a larger collaboration to learn about the impact that earthworms — an invasive species in Alberta — have on the environment and their distribution patterns across the province.
“In agriculture and gardens, worms are obviously quite useful because they mix up the soil and increase aeration, but in forests in most of Canada and the northern United States, they’re an invasive species,” said biologist Erin Cameron, a U of A alumna who started studying earthworm populations as a graduate student under the supervision of Erin Bayne.
“When they consume the forest leaf litter layer and mix it with the lower mineral soil, that can have negative effects on native species that rely on a thick forest floor.”
The earthworms’ northern migration is largely the result of human interference and activities such as fishing, boating and camping. Earthworms that don’t end up on a fishing hook often end up discarded in the wilderness or in the water. Worms and worm cocoons also hitchhike their way into the wild, sticking to tire treads or wheel wells before ending up in the forest.
Outdoor adventurers are encouraged to wrangle their worms and log worm encounters — the first in what the U of A team hopes are many successful partnerships that build a bridge between scientists, educators, students and the general public.
“This issue of invasive species gets at so many ecological concepts, this provides really good context for teachers to be engaged in the project and address some of those concepts in their curriculum,” says Jerine Pegg, an assistant professor of elementary education with a strong interest in scientist-teacher partnerships.