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Exotic Asian pheretimoid earthworms (Amynthas spp., Metaphire spp.): Potential for colonisation of south-eastern Canada and effects on forest ecosystems

Moore, Jean-David, Görres, Josef H., Reynolds, John W.
Environmental reviews 2018 v.26 no.2 pp. 113-120
Amynthas, anthropogenic activities, biodiversity, earthworms, forest ecosystems, forests, horticulture, industry, international trade, introduced species, nontarget organisms, soil pH, soil water, temperature, vermicomposting, Canada, Northeastern United States
Exotic species invasions are among the most significant global-scale problems caused by human activities. They can seriously threaten the conservation of biological diversity and of natural resources. Exotic European earthworms have been colonizing forest ecosystems in northeastern United States and southern Canada since the European settlement. By comparison, Asian earthworms began colonizing forests in the northeastern United States more recently. Since Asian species have biological traits compatible with a greater potential for colonization and disturbance than some European species, apprehension is growing about their dispersal into new territories. Here we review the extent of the current northern range of Asian earthworms in northeastern North America, the factors facilitating or limiting their propagation and colonization, and the potential effects of their invasion on forest ecosystems. Data compilation shows that Asian earthworms are present in all northeastern American states. So far, only one mention has been reported in Canada. Data confirm that their distribution has now reached the Canadian border, particularly along the Michigan–Ontario, New York–Ontario, Maine–New Brunswick, and Vermont–Québec frontiers. Studies report that the presence of Asian earthworms is strongly associated with human activities such as horticulture, vermicomposting, and the use of worms as fish bait. Some climatic (temperature, soil moisture) and edaphic (soil pH) factors may also influence their distribution. Controlling their dispersal at the source is essential to limiting their spread, as there is currently no effective way to eradicate established earthworm populations without unacceptable nontarget effects. Proposed management options in the United States include the prohibition of fish bait disposal and better management of the international trade of horticultural goods, commercial nurseries, and vermicomposting industries. We conclude that although regulations and awareness may delay their expansion, Asian earthworms are likely to spread further north into Canada. They are expected to cause important changes to biodiversity and dynamics of the newly invaded forest ecosystems.