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Worming Their Way In: Invading Earthworms in the Southeastern United States
This article is from Issue Worming Their Way In - Vol. 1 No. 2.
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Earth is home to millions of plant and animal species. With so many different types of plants and animals, scientists needed a system for organizing and describing the various species they study. They created a taxonomic system that can be used to classify all living things (figure 1). Scientists all over the world use the same system. It helps them understand how living things relate to one another, and allows them to share information about their research. In this study, the scientists discovered a species of earthworm that did not normally live in the area in which it was found. They identified this earthworm by its taxonomic name, and that is the name they used in this study. All living things have taxonomic names, and most living things also have common names. Homo sapiens is a taxonomic name. Taxonomic names are always italicized. What is the common name of Homo sapiens? If you need a hint, see the caption under figure 1.
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Native plants and animals have adapted over a long period of time to live in a particular natural area. They help keep the natural area healthy and contribute to its health by protecting water quality, providing food and shelter for native animal species, and enriching soils for other native plants to grow. Plants and animals that are not native either move into a new area on their own, are carried on other objects, or are purposely brought into a new area by humans. These nonnative plants and animals can upset the natural balance of native plants and animals. When this happens, scientists say that the nonnative plants and animals are invasive. Invasive plants and animals often reproduce more rapidly than native plants and animals. Natural areas lack the animals that would otherwise feed on the invasive plants and animals. Invasive species, therefore, consume what is needed for survival by native species. This includes things like water, space, and food. Invasive plants and animals can disrupt the balance so much that they put the health of the natural area in danger. In this study, the scientists were interested in learning whether invasive earthworms had invaded a forest.
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