Don’t blame worms for climate change

No one wants sea levels to rise and Florida to flood. No one wants the ash borer-killed trees in Ann Arbor replaced with palm trees. No one wants to drink Missouri orange juice for breakfast, Iceland to melt or any of the other calamities predicted as likely next week, next year, next decade or the next century.

No wonder all a scientist has to do is mutter the words “climate change” and a wheelbarrow full of money will be delivered to fund his or her next study to learn the causes, impacts and solutions of the problem. One of these research projects has now exonerated earthworms (previously suspected of being co-conspirators in causing climate change) of blame in the pending global catastrophe.
In days of old (somewhere around 20 years ago) earthworms were thought to be benevolent little creatures, beloved by fishermen as well as soil scientists. Except for the few that crawled out on the sidewalk on rainy nights, then died and left little “worm” stains on the concrete, they were forces for good.
Then, in the late “days of old” period of history, someone discovered the ice age had wiped out North American worms 10,000 years ago, along with North American mammoths and giant ground sloths. The worms we have today in fields, gardens and forests are one of the earliest invasive species brought to the New World by European colonists.
Evidently, they didn’t have an ice age in Europe 10,000 years ago. I’d think a glacier would be equally deadly to worm life, where ever it occurred…
The invasive worms, they say, wiggled their way from Plymouth Rock and other ports of entry to swarm over the continent as far north as our boreal forests. Some theorized that in so doing they contributed to climate change.
As trees, leaves, logs and other growing things proceed through the natural processes of life they suck up carbon dioxide. When they die, that stored up CO2 remains in the forest litter, only slowly releasing back into the atmosphere as decomposition occurs.
Worms don’t have long lists of likes and dislikes, but they love dead, decomposing forest litter and attack it like a Boy Scout after a s’more. It was suspected the accelerated decomposition of this forest litter released elevated levels of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere, thus hastening climate change.
Blame the worms!
This theory, recently was debunked by Shaun Watmough, a researcher from Trent University in Ontario. Worms do accelerate decomposition of forest litter. That, in turn, changes the nature and regrowth of worm-affected forests, but due to a complicated processes, Watmough’s findings show worm-filled forests don’t produce more airborne greenhouse emissions than worm-free woodlands.
I’m so relieved. It’s one less thing to worry about as I plan my southern Michigan alligator hunt.

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