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RF 4: Worming their way in | Pamdemonium
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RF 4: Worming their way in

March 14, 2010

This week’s Random Fact is more random than usual because its source is unrelated to any professional work but rather just too fascinating, and possibly ecologically troubling, to resist.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, a synapse flickered when I read an article this weekend on the 400th Anniversary of the Jamestown landing in the May 2007 issue of National Geographic. (We acquired a stack of the magazines when we bought a house in the country). Among the many things I think I learned as a youngster but forgot was that horses were not native to North America. What I didn’t learn, or don’t remember sort of forgetting, was that North America had no large domesticable mammals at all: horses, goats, even the beloved bovine came to our shores with European “settlers.”

They also brought beehives, intentionally, and earthworms, possibly unintentionally. The wrigglers that gardeners cheer and composters worship were largely unknown in most of America’s northern forests. The bees that made the trip, to make honey, turned out to be rather sluttish and pollinated everything for miles and miles.

So what? The animal mainstays of our modern countryside, including chickens and domestic hogs, trampled the crops and land cultivated by Native Americans. The worms, though they spread slowly, chomped away organic litter on floors of old-growth forests, robbing the giants of their food. The bees got busy, the author says, and allowed Europeans to grow crops from home – peaches, apples, watermelons. When they saw honeybees, Native Americans knew Europeans were not far behind.

Saving tobacco farming and changes to land management for another day, the Random Fact is this: Much plant and animal life we’ve come to think of as “American” is, in fact, a collection of invasive species that fundamentally changed the ecosystem.

One historian quoted calls it “ecological imperialism.” I call it food for thought.



Michelle Luke March 15, 2010 at 12:40 pm

We can’t believe this, is National Geo sure? We want to know what pollinated the native huckleberries then? I suppose the Hummingbird who is a native. How did the bears get their honey? Were they going without for centuries? Did the Europeans bring wasps too? Why would they? Why would we have wasps but not honey bees? Would mother nature be that unfair to us? I believe we must do more investigation on this one. Signed, Doubters in Montana.

pamelacoyle March 15, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Hello Doubters!
I was very surprised by this, too. I’d like to think National Geo is a reputable source. I think we had other bees but not this particular species, a European honeybee that is more aggressive. Don’t know about the wasps. I am sure we had other worms, too, just not this type. Please let me know what your investigation uncovers.

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