The effect of non- indigenous earthworms in the ecosystem


There has been an upsurge in concern on the effect of non- indigenous earthworms in the ecosystem. And although they are mostly known for their benefits to the ecosystem, that is, boosting nutrient availability and improving soil structure, there is an underlying danger that is caused by these small creatures. Earthworms are tube-like segmented worms that belong to the Phylum Annelida. They are primarily known for their ability to live in the soil and feed on both living and dead organic matter. Their primary mode of movement is crawling inside and on the soil surface. Most of the species dwell, burrow and cast in the soil. Non-indigenous earthworms are earthworms whose origin is different from that which they are placed (Moore, Görres & Reynolds, 2018). They are gradually changing the earth’s ecosystem by eroding the soil, giving room for penetration of pesticides into waterways, and in the long run destroying food, and shelter for lots of other species.

Background Information

In a bid to increase the fertility of soils, people have deemed it fit to import earthworms from other countries. However, there is a lurking danger in the importation of these non-indigenous species of earthworms (Ziemba, Hickerson & Anthony, 2016). Most of these earthworms are imported from European countries, yet studies have shown that species coming from these areas may not only destroy food and shelter for other organisms but may also carry pathogens that transmit diseases. Most researches conducted were solely focused on showing how beneficial earthworms are in the ecosystem. I, therefore, chose the topic to enlighten help enlighten people on the possible detrimental effects non-indigenous earthworms and their impact on evolution. In addition to that, there has been an uprising concern on the frequency of use of non-indigenous worms, and therefore, there is a need to investigate these worms before they cause further damage.


Non-indigenous earthworms, according to research that was recently carried out, have been proven to be pervasive. They have the tendency of expanding their range over given areas. Most of the earthworm species are found in Asian and European countries which have been recorded to having the highest populations of worms since the eighteenth century. They are slow-moving animals, thus making people wonder how they migrate at a high rate. Well, this is because their movement agent is human transportation, primarily through horticultural trade activities. This is, however, quite unfortunate because these earthworms have the potential of carrying pathogens with them. These pathogens are responsible for various infections that may be harmful to animals such as foot and mouth disease, which severely affects livestock. The pores created in the soil allow chemicals such as pesticides to penetrate the ground (Moore, Görres & Reynolds, 2018). Pesticides are known to change the soil pH and increasing its salinity, making it difficult for plants to dwell in overly acidic soils. Thus, pesticides decrease ground-level vegetation, which serves as food for many terrestrial organisms such as mammals, insects, and other numerous vertebrates, forcing them to compete for food, and this causes pressure in the available ecosystem resources.

Soil erosion, which is the carrying away of the top layer of the soil that is quite invaluable in the growth of plants, is caused by the detrimental actions of these earthworms. Activities such as interference of the soil through burying and removing topsoil while riddling irrigation channels not only cause soil erosion but also reduces the ability of soils to hold and retain water. A study conducted by Ziemba shows that European earthworms have invaded forests and negatively impacted on animals’ shelters. Their destruction of forest floors has rendered most ground-nesting birds and other animals that dwell on the soil for housing, homeless. This has, to a large extent, led to the loss of biodiversity in the forest ecosystems.

After a careful study on the effects of earthworms on the plants, animals, and the ecosystem at large, it has dawned on scientists that earthworm’s activities could inhibit earth’s evolution. Loss of food and nutrients through destruction by worms may lead to the death of organisms due to starvation, while others may be forced to migrate to other areas where they can access food. Perhaps one of the significant fears of these earthworms is that once they extend their impact on the keystone species in the environment, the biological diversity will be lost beyond salvage. This is because the keystone species’ presence plays a significant role in balancing and maintaining diversity. Wiping out these species will allow populations of preys to explode, which means that overall diversity will be lost. The presence of keystone species, to a large extent, determines the existence of other species. Soil erosion, on the other hand, leads to the displacement of nutrients which are necessary for the growth of plants. The impact of earthworms on water retention capacity of soils may also limit the uptake of water by plants, which eventually causes the plant species to dry up and wither and thus destroys their reproduction activities, which is the fundamental factor of the earth’s evolution.

To add on to that, pathogenic microorganisms that are transmitted to other animals through the earthworms affect the health and wellbeing of animals. Worms tend to carry infectious pathogens, and earthworms are not an exception. These worms can be a channel in which bacterium is transmitted from one place to another, without people’s knowledge. Some of these foreign pathogens may contain mutants or genes that inhibit mutation, thus affecting evolution. When non-native earthworms impact on the lives of plants and fauna, which play significant roles in the balance and maintenance of the ecosystem, they cause a rapid change in the environment. Ziemba & Anthony’s (2016) study explains that when invasive worms found their way into Canada and North America caused destructive effects on the forest cover and forest life. With only two species native to these two nations, the populations have gradually increased, and currently, there are over a hundred non-native species that are existing (HENDRIX & BOHLEN, 2016). These organisms extensively destroyed food and habitats of other organisms and, in the long run, reduced biological diversity. North America’s biodiversity is decreasing by the day, with the increase in these invasive species of earthworms.

According to Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution, the earthworms act as catalysts for changes and developments in the earth’s structure. Although, according to his research, earthworms fostered positive changes by increasing the fertility of the earth, much more recent studies have tried to prove that in as much as these earthworms are beneficial, they also cause a great deal of destruction. What is even more unfortunate is that the devastation caused by these worms draws back evolution. In a nutshell, therefore, non-indigenous earthworms affect the nutrient cycles, air cycles, and water cycles in the atmosphere. These are the most essential processes that are responsible for the sustenance of life in ecosystems. It is quite apparent that when non-native species are introduced to a particular area, their impact may affect the species that are native to that area, by either taking up their food or destroying their shelter. To add on to that, the pressure exerted on the ecosystems, in the long run, leads to loss of biodiversity. Loss of biodiversity is the first factor connected to the extinction of species which is the greatest threat to evolution.

General awareness has opened up investigative researches, which suggests that the only way to avoid these detrimental effects is to quit importing earthworms from other countries with different ecosystem contents and structure and invent ways of preventing them from migrating to other areas. Also, the use of worms as bait in fishing should be reduced because it increases the chances of these worms in finding potential mates and thus increase their reproduction rates. It is, however, yet to be confirmed if the relationship between non-indigenous earthworms is causal or relational, however, what is to be kept in mind is not only their benefits but also, the potential damage they could cause.


To sum it up, the activities of worms in the soils, such as burying, burrowing, and mixing of soil content, have caused more harm than good. These activities cause dispersion of pesticides, reduce the thickness of organic matter, loss of soil nutrients through leaching, the spread of pathogenic diseases, and loss of plant and animal habitat. Generally, non-native earthworms impacts on the earth’s evolution through the decrease in diversity. Although most studies carried out to show the relationship between evolution and earthworms focus on the benefits of these worms, there is a need to assess the detrimental effects that they have on the earth’s evolution. It is, however, quite unfathomable how such small organisms can cause significant changes in the environment.

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