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Humans bringing earthworms to forests

HEIDELBERG, N.Y., Sept. 1 (UPI) -- Humans are the principle cause of the introduction of non-native earthworm species that may threaten North American forests, a study says.

Researchers from Colgate University in New York, in a study published in the journal Human Ecology, say humans spread earthworms -- both inadvertently via horticulture and land disturbance, but also knowingly through composting and careless disposal of fish bait.

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Human introduction of exotic earthworm species can be traced as far back as European settlers arriving in North America and dumping ship ballast, a mixture of soil and gravel, onto the land, the researchers said.

The main influences today are recreational fishing, gardening, composting and the movement of egg cases on vehicles.

Non-native species of earthworms can have a detrimental effect on the flora and fauna of the forests, the study found, and even the most environmentally conscious people may not realize the threat these earthworms pose.

"The public needs to be empowered to implement behavior that helps mitigate the introduction of earthworms," the study authors said.

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