Invasion of the Earthworms!

Earthworms, via Soil-Net Library

My mother gardens with a serious green thumb, and so as a kid, I spend summers playing around the vegetable garden. She taught me about bugs, which ones were good friends, like sociable ladybugs and graceful garden spiders.  She also introduced me to enemies, like the fat tomato horn worms and the dusty green broccoli moths. From my mother, I learned that earthworms help gardeners by breaking down organic matter in the soils into nutrients that the plants can use, and breaking up the substrate with their wriggling to create spaces for roots to use.

Last week, my mother called me with terrible news. “Did you know earthworms are not native?? They are INVASIVE earthworms, and they are really bad for the forest! Did you know about this?”

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Introducing Enemy Number 1

Bromus grass carpets a hillside, 3 years after a fire in Nevada's Mojave Desert

Enemy #1 is actually two distinct species of a small, annual grass with Euro-Asian ancestry that have taken over many arid lands in the west. In desert ecosystems characterized by well spaced shrubs and perennials, these invasive grasses can spread into a carpet. This new source of fuel that can carry a wildfire across a landscape where fire is historically rare and enormous fires unheard of. Starting in 2005, enormous wildfires burnt through southern Nevada, fueled in a large part, by these invaders. Allow me to introduce these Bromus Brothers:

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