- Author: Ben Faber
Earthworms are commonly associated with “healthy” soils and in many cases they are good indicators. See a previous blog: http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=23945
In a recent blog, Michigan State University is telling a different story: http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/the_dirt_about_earthworms
The popular view of earthworms – beneficial creatures that aerate the soil, feed robins and make good fishing bait – may be true in our gardens and tilled farm fields, but in forests it is a different matter.
Earthworms are not native to Michigan and the Great Lakes region, at least not since before glaciers covered the region; they were brought here during European settlement in the 1800s or possibly earlier. Plants, wildlife and forests evolved without any of these creatures around. They are now an invasive species that harms forests.
In gardens and agricultural fields, earthworms help improved soil structure and fertility, but in forests their effects are much different. Hardwood forests without earthworms have a thick layer of slowly decomposing leaves, or “duff” that promotes a rich community of wildflowers, tree seedlings and small animals. Earthworms change that environment dramatically by essentially consuming the duff, thereby destroying habitat and reducing fertility. In contrast to their effect in gardens, earthworms cause forest soils to become more compacted. As a result of habitat loss, fertility declines and soil compaction, these forests may be less productive and have poorer new tree regeneration in the long run.
If that wasn't bad enough, research shows that the combination of excessive browsing by deer (another serious threat to Michigan forests) and high earthworm populations in an area can have a worse effect than either one alone. Also, other invasive species, such as buckthorn, may have an easier time getting established in earthworm-infested areas. Without a diverse forest floor and new seedlings, the long term health of woodlands is threatened.
The connection between climate change and earthworms is complex. A warmer climate and longer growing season may hasten earthworm migration to previously worm-free forests. Introduction of earthworms make them more vulnerable to other climate-related stresses, such as more frequent and longer droughts. Although earthworms may reduce the amount of carbon entering the atmosphere through their soil action, on balance these creatures are a bad deal for northern forests.
Earthworm populations are not the same throughout Michigan forests – some areas have dense populations, others have few or none. They get from place to place very slowly. People, however, can transport them much more quickly on muddy tires, soil moved from place to place, and discarded fishing bait. There is no way to eliminate earthworms once they become established in woodlands.
In California, we have some native species of earthworms, but in many cases, non-native introduced species have come to dominate. The predominant native species belong to the Argilophilus and Diplocardia while many of the non-native are of European in origin in the Lumbricidae family. Many of these non-natives were probably introduced by settlers bringing plants from home, which had soil containing the worms. A survey of California earthworms by the US Forest Service can be found at:
This is a wonderful description of earthworm biology and their occurrence in the California landscape.
- Author: Ben Faber
Leafminer, sometimes Leaf Miner. It's that time of year. Those little moths come out in the late afternoon and flit about. They lay their eggs and when they hatch the larvae start burrowing through the leaf. The recent heat and also the generally warm summer have set them off. And it is obvious now. The heat has exacerbated the collapse and drying of the leaves and on older trees it looks like trees have been decorated with a sprinkling of light brownish ornaments. It is disturbing. But it's not the end of the world, like …………ACP can be.
Leafminer adults are tiny moths less than 0.12 in long (2 mm) with wings span twice as wide.
Pretty shocking from a distance
Citrus leafminer larvae feed by creating shallow tunnels, referred to as mines, in young leaves. It is most commonly found on citrus (oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, grapefruit and other varieties) and closely related trees (kumquat and calamondin). The larvae mine the lower or upper surface of the leaves causing them to curl and look distorted. Mature citrus trees (more than 4 years old) generally tolerate leaf damage without any effect on tree growth or fruit yield. Citrus leafminer is likely to cause damage in nurseries and new plantings because the growth of young trees is retarded by leafminer infestations. However, even when infestations of citrus leafminer are heavy on young trees, trees are unlikely to die. But they can sure struggle pushing new leaves that then get attacked anew.
Several years ago, we did a trial where we sprayed mature trees with leafminers every month for 18 months with a rotation of different chemicals and even the most heavily treated trees had some damage on them. The most heavily infested trees looked horrible, but in that period of time there were no lemon yield differences. Young trees treated with a systemic were able to free themselves of infestation. This has been commented on by others, that soil applied systemics on heavier soils can have problems controlling leafminers.
Photos: Tunnels and the rapidly dried leaf after a heat spell