Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Changes in the genetic structure of an invasive earthworm species (Lumbricus terrestris, Lumbricidae) along an urban-rural gradient in North America.

Abstract

European earthworms were introduced to North America by European settlers about 400 years ago. Human-mediated introductions significantly contributed to the spread of European species, which commonly are used as fishing bait and are often disposed deliberately in the wild. We investigated the genetic structure of Lumbricus terrestris in a 100 km range south of Calgary, Canada, an area that likely was devoid of this species two decades ago. Genetic relationships among populations, gene flow, and migration events among populations were investigated using seven microsatellite markers and the mitochondrial 16S rDNA gene. Earthworms were collected at different distances from the city and included fishing baits from three different bait distributors. The results suggest that field populations in Alberta established rather recently and that bait and field individuals in the study area have a common origin. Genetic variance within populations decreased outside of the urban area, and the most distant populations likely originated from a single introduction event. The results emphasise the utility of molecular tools to understand the spatial extent and connectivity of populations of exotic species, in particular soil-dwelling species, that invade native ecosystems and to obtain information on the origin of populations. Such information is crucial for developing management and prevention strategies to limit and control establishment of non-native earthworms in North America.