Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Earthworms to blame for decline of ovenbirds in northern Midwest forests

Date:
February 29, 2012
Source:
Smithsonian
Summary:
A recent decline in ovenbirds, a ground-nesting migratory songbird, in forests in the northern Midwest United States is being linked by scientists to a seemingly unlikely culprit: earthworms.

Scott Loss uses a liquid-mustard mixture to sample earthworms. The mustard contains a skin irritant that causes earthworms to come to the surface. A recent decline in ovenbirds (Seiurus aurocapilla), a ground-nesting migratory songbird, in forests in the northern Midwest US is being linked by scientists to a seemingly unlikely culprit: earthworms.
Credit: Photo by Sara Schmelzer Loss

A recent decline in ovenbirds (Seiurus aurocapilla), a ground-nesting migratory songbird, in forests in the northern Midwest United States is being linked by scientists to a seemingly unlikely culprit: earthworms.

Related Articles


A new survey conducted in Minnesota's Chippewa National Forest and Wisconsin's Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest by a research team led by Scott Loss of the University of Minnesota and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has revealed a direct link between the presence of invasive European earthworms (Lumbricus spp.) and reduced numbers of ovenbirds in mixed sugar maple and basswood forests.

The results are detailed in a paper published online in the scientific journal, Landscape Ecology.

European earthworms are invading previously earthworm-free hardwood forests in North America the scientists say, and consuming the rich layer of leaf litter on the forest floor. In turn, herbaceous plants that thrive in thick leaf litter and provide cover for ground-nesting birds are thinning out, replaced by grasses and sedges.

As a result, ovenbird nests are more visible and vulnerable to predators and ovenbirds searching for nesting sites reject these low-cover areas outright. Areas of reduced leaf litter also contain fewer bugs for the ovenbirds to eat, requiring them to establish larger territories, resulting in fewer birds over a given area.

The worms invading northern Midwestern forests (and forests in the northeastern U.S. and Canada) have been in the U.S. since soon after the first European settlers arrived. Loss explains the worms were brought over inadvertently in the ballast of ships, in the root balls of agricultural plants or on purpose for use in gardening. Only now is the leading edge of their continued invasion, caused mainly by logging activities and fishermen dumping their bait, reaching interior wilderness areas such as parts of the study site in the remote forests of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

"Night crawlers [Lumbricus terrestris] and the slightly smaller red worms [also called leaf worms or beaver tails, Lumbricus rubellus], have the most damaging impacts to the soil, litter layer, and plants in forests that were historically earthworm-free," Loss says.

"Everyone has probably heard at one time or another that earthworms have really positive effects in breaking down soil and making it more porous," Loss explains. "This is true in agricultural and garden settings but not in forests in the Midwest which have developed decomposition systems without earth worms."

Because the forested areas of the Midwest U.S. were once covered in glaciers, there are no native earthworm species present in the soil. "These earthworm-free forests developed a slow fungus-based decomposition process characterized by a deep organic litter layer on the forest floor," Loss says.

Earthworms feed on this layer of leaf litter and make it decompose much faster, Loss explains. "As a result, we see the loss of sensitive forest-floor species such as trillium, Solomons seal, sarsaparilla and sugar maple seedlings and a shift in dominance to disturbance-adapted species like Pennsylvania sedge."

One result is reduced nest concealment for the ovenbird and increased predation by squirrel and bird predators.

The researchers found no decline in three other species of ground-nesting birds included in their survey -- the hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus), black-and-white warbler (Mniotilta varia) and veery (Catharus fuscescens) -- nor did they find a correlation between ovenbird decline and invasive worms in other forest types, such as red oak, paper birch and aspen.

"Our results suggest that ovenbird density may decline by as much as 25 percent in maple-basswood forests heavily invaded by invasive earthworms," the researchers conclude. "Maple-basswood forests are among the preferred ovenbird habitats in the region, comprise a considerable portion of the region's woodlands…and are experiencing Lumbricus invasions across most of the northern Midwest."

Previous studies have demonstrated that invasive earthworms also are harmful to other native North American species, such as salamanders.

There is reason for concern that the overall population of ovenbirds could decline, Loss points out. "Ovenbirds migrate to Central America and the Caribbean and back every yea --a trip during which they can fly into buildings and towers or get nabbed by a cat as they rest on the ground--and they also face loss of habitat on their breeding and wintering grounds. Now, here is yet another potential threat to their survival."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Smithsonian. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Scott R. Loss, Gerald J. Niemi, Robert B. Blair. Invasions of non-native earthworms related to population declines of ground-nesting songbirds across a regional extent in northern hardwood forests of North America. Landscape Ecology, 2012; DOI: 10.1007/s10980-012-9717-4

Cite This Page:

Smithsonian. "Earthworms to blame for decline of ovenbirds in northern Midwest forests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 February 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120229142225.htm>.
Smithsonian. (2012, February 29). Earthworms to blame for decline of ovenbirds in northern Midwest forests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120229142225.htm
Smithsonian. "Earthworms to blame for decline of ovenbirds in northern Midwest forests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120229142225.htm (accessed November 22, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Toyota's Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Green Car Soon Available in the US

Toyota's Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Green Car Soon Available in the US

AFP (Nov. 21, 2014) Toyota presented its hydrogen fuel-cell compact car called "Mirai" to US consumers at the Los Angeles auto show. The car should go on sale in 2015 for around $60.000. It combines stored hydrogen with oxygen to generate its own power. Duration: 01:18 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Google Announces Improvements To Balloon-Borne Wi-Fi Project

Google Announces Improvements To Balloon-Borne Wi-Fi Project

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) In a blog post, Google said its balloons have traveled 3 million kilometers since the start of Project Loon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
5 Hot Months, 1 Warm Year And All The Arguments To Follow

5 Hot Months, 1 Warm Year And All The Arguments To Follow

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) The NOAA released statistics Thursday showing October was the fifth month this year with record temps and 2014 will likely be the hottest on record. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Nations Pledge $9.3 Bn for Green Climate Fund

Nations Pledge $9.3 Bn for Green Climate Fund

AFP (Nov. 20, 2014) Nations meeting in Berlin pledge $9.3 billion (7.4 bn euros) for a climate fund to help poor countries cut emissions and prepare for global warming, just shy of a $10bn target. Duration: 00:46 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins