Jumping Worm Research Enhanced by Student Researchers

Eren and Alexa monitor jumping worm populations in Gallistel Woods research plots.

Eren and Alexa monitor jumping worm populations in Gallistel Woods research plots.

Non-native invasive species can negatively affect the conservation of native species, restoration goals for natural areas, and general ecosystem health. At the Arboretum, we manage and conduct research on a range of invasive species such as European buckthorn, emerald ash borer, and – most recently – jumping worms.

Endemic to parts of Asia, jumping worms have invaded North American forests and gardens from the southeast to New England, the Midwest, and parts of eastern Canada. These earthworms consume large amounts of organic matter, primarily fallen leaves in forests and mulch and compost in gardens. They drastically change the structure of the upper layer of soil, alter the timing and rate of nutrient movement, cause soil erosion, and negatively affect the health of some plants and animals. At the Arboretum, one of our research questions is to understand what these changes mean for forest ecosystem health.

Student researchers and research assistants have played an important part in furthering jumping worm research. This summer we’ve been joined by Eren and Alexa, two UW–Madison students. Read on to hear their stories!

Hi! This is Eren and Alexa. As ecological research assistants at the Arboretum, we help with a wide variety of jumping worm projects. We’ve collected worms and their cocoons, analyzed soil qualities, surveyed plant biodiversity, set up trail cameras, and driven all around Dane County to better understand how jumping worms are interacting with Wisconsin’s ecosystems!

Eren and Alexa sort seeds as part of a jumping worm research project.

Eren: I’m a senior at UW–Madison studying Environmental Science and Conservation Biology, with a Food Systems certificate. After graduation, I’ll be seeking full-time or seasonal positions in ecological research. I hope to spend a few years developing my field skills and exploring the country through this work but will eventually return to academia for grad school.

The work Alexa and I do with Brad has been extremely empowering. Whether it be plant identification in the field or data analysis on my laptop at home, it’s satisfying to have a real-world application for the skills I’m learning at the UW. Managing time between research and school is tough, but I’d highly encourage every student to get involved with university research in college if they can – even just for a semester.

Alexa: I’m a senior studying Environmental Science and American Indian Studies at UW–Madison. I am particularly interested in how traditional Indigenous environmental knowledge of the landscape may inform more equitable and sustainable natural resource management and ecological research practices. After graduation in the spring, I hope to continue working in ecological research and learning about ways to uplift Indigenous voices around the country in the discussion surrounding climate change.

The best decision that I have made as a UW student has been taking advantage of the research opportunities that this university offers. Not only has the work itself been extraordinarily rewarding, but the connections that I have made with other people at the Arboretum have been invaluable. As a first-generation student, gaining insight into how the people that I admire have progressed into the positions they are in now is extremely helpful and encouraging.

—Brad Herrick, research program manager, and Eren and Alexa, research assistants and UW–Madison students