No protection for giant spitting earthworm
Earlier this month, the US Fish and Wildlife Service denied protection under the Endangered Species Act to the giant Palouse earthworm. I can't describe the linkurl:Driloleirus americanus;http://www.ag.uidaho.edu/news/Photos/giantPalouseearthworm/smoot%20p%205%20sp%202%20ventral.jpg any better than "worm defender"
Earlier this month, the US Fish and Wildlife Service denied protection under the Endangered Species Act to the giant Palouse earthworm. I can't describe the linkurl:Driloleirus americanus;http://www.ag.uidaho.edu/news/Photos/giantPalouseearthworm/smoot%20p%205%20sp%202%20ventral.jpg any better than "worm defender" Steve Paulson did in the High Country News linkurl:last year: ;http://www.hcn.org/servlets/hcn.Article?article_id=16643 ''What kid wouldn't want to play with a 3-foot-long, lily-smelling, soft pink worm that spits?''
Paulson and a number of others linkurl:petitioned;http://www.palouseprairie.org/invertebrates/Driloleirus_americanus_petition_a.pdf the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the worm as endangered last year, and in August they linkurl:threatened to sue the agency;http://www.palouseprairie.org/invertebrates/GiantPalouseEarthwormNOI.pdf if it didn't make a decision. On October 9, the agency linkurl:denied the petition. ;http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2007/pdf/e7-19595.pdf They wrote, in part, that ''while the Palouse prairie has experienced a dramatic conversion of native habitat to agricultural practices, information linking the effect agricultural practices that utilize chemicals and result in soil compaction and composition has had on the earthworm is currently nonexistent. In addition, the Service found no information on predation or transmission of pathogens by exotic earthworms to the giant Palouse earthworm. Though there are no existing regulatory mechanisms for the giant Palouse earthworm or for other native earthworms, so little information exists about the population size, trends, habitat needs and limiting factors of the giant Palouse earthworm, the Service could not determine if a lack of regulations may pose a threat to the species.''
Paulson said the decision ''comes as a bit of a shock,'' and he and others filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see why the agency came to its conclusion.
Mac Callaham, a research ecologist with the USDA Forest Service in Athens, Georgia, told me he didn't know much about the Palouse prairies, but that in his work on the prairie worms of Kansas, "we found a pretty clear pattern of sensitivity to disturbance among the native earthworm species." He said, via Email, that "it seems at least plausible that disturbances of the type" in the Palouse would have negative effects on the species. "Anyway, it seems to me that it should be easy to acquire the data needed to satisfy the FWS board," he said. "Burrow counting is a tried and true (and generally accepted in the worm research community) way of determining population sizes of the anecic worms that are hard to get with a shovel. Count burrows in undisturbed and disturbed areas, and voila!"
I learned a lot about earthworms last year when I visited a linkurl:then-new rhizotron;http://www.the-scientist.com/2007/1/1/17/2/ in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. And I learned a lot about the Palouse while chasing linkurl:endangered pygmy;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/daily/53232/ rabbits around eastern Washington State. Not surprisingly, I didn't see a giant Palouse earthworm in either place.
October 23, 2007
I was very disappointed to hear this. I've written about the giant spitting earthworm a few times on Extinction Blog (http://www.plentymag.com/blogs/extinction/2007/09/save_the_giant_spitting_earthw.php), and it seems like a species that needs protection. I look forward to hearing what the FOI request uncovers.