Burrowing Into Pheretimoid Worm Research

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During the summer, Colgate students are applying their liberal arts know-how in a variety of real-world settings, and they are keeping our community posted on their progress. Biology major Kaleigh Gale ’21 from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., describes her research on invasive “jumping worms.” 
Working with Dunham Beldon Jr. Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Timothy McCay, I have been uncovering the distribution and perceived effects of invasive pheretimoid “jumping worms” in the northeastern United States.

The central goal of my research is to determine the effect invasive jumping worms have on soil, plants, and other earthworm species. Because jumping worms thrive in wood mulches and other common gardening soils, landscaping and other gardening practices may play a large role in distributing them in the Northeast.

During the spring semester, I developed a survey to send out to master gardener programs across the Northeast — including New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts — regarding the presence of invasive jumping worms. The results were staggering, as we found that invasive jumping worms are more prevalent than had been previously thought.

Upon organizing my survey results, it became clear that invasive jumping worms may be largely spread unintentionally through the use of mulches, soils, and composts in gardens across the Northeast. In addition, it was widely reported by gardeners that jumping worms rapidly decompose soil, leaving behind a thick layer of coffee-ground-like castings that don’t hold water effectively and make it difficult for shallow-rooted plants to grow adequately. Therefore, I am working on spreading awareness during the summer by submitting my results for publication and uncovering more information to support my findings. 

Drew Johnson ’20 and I have created a comprehensive map of places where invasive jumping worms are located in the Northeast and hope to offer effective treatment options that will limit their exponential growth. We have both been busy filling in the gaps by testing for invasive jumping worms all over the Northeast. Together, we have been determining effective treatment options in our backyards in makeshift lab setups, becoming creative with our COVID-19 stay-at-home scientific lab space. 

The research that Colgate has allowed me to participate in with the biology department has strengthened my love for all aspects of science. By engaging in this project, I am able to combine my interests in biology and geography as well as enhance my love for gardening, plants, and animals. I have loved working as a team with both Colgate professors and students. I look forward to utilizing the skills I have improved upon while doing research at Colgate, and I will apply them going forward in medical school and in life afterward.