UW Arboretum Launches Community-based Research Survey on Jumping Worms

Jumping worms in soil

Jumping worms in granular soil that indicates their presence.

Jumping worms are a group of non-native invasive earthworms that are invading forests, gardens, and landscaped areas throughout the United States. The first confirmed population of jumping worms in Wisconsin was at the UW–Madison Arboretum in 2013. Most counties in the state have now reported populations of these earthworms.

Endemic to parts of Asia, these earthworms likely hitched a ride in soil, horticultural materials, and/or root balls of ornamental plants brought to the U.S. They are associated with mulch, compost, and soil and are easily moved around via these products. While researchers are just scratching the surface about how these new invasive species affect soil, plants, and other organisms, recent studies and anecdotal observations suggest that jumping worms dramatically alter the soil structure and nutrients, displace other species of earthworms, and can negatively affect plant growth and survivability.

In recent years, gardeners around Wisconsin have reported significant impacts to their soil and plant health, likely caused by jumping worms. Seeing a need to learn more about these impacts, the Arboretum is launching a research study to crowdsource information and experience about jumping worms. This study, called “Building and sharing collective knowledge about the impacts of an invasive species new to Wisconsin,” is designed to learn more about the impact of jumping worms on native and ornamental plants that are commonly used in home landscapes.

The study begins with an online survey to collect observations and experiences of jumping worms from gardeners, land managers, community members, and professionals in the green industry. The survey will be followed by opportunities to participate in optional focus groups. Anyone may participate in this research by taking the survey. The initial research phase will focus on Wisconsin, but people living outside the state are also encouraged to take the survey to expand the project reach. From the information collected, Arboretum staff plan to create outreach materials to share what was learned with the public. The data collected will also contribute to future research on jumping worms. This project is funded by a Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Seed Project Grant.

If you would like to participate, please follow the “Take the survey” link below to the UW–Madison Arboretum 2021 Community Survey on Jumping Worms. This link will take you to a page with more information about the study and a consent form. If you consent to participate in the study, you will then be directed to the survey. The survey will be open through November 15. You could also have the option to participate in a virtual focus group to learn more specifics about your observations and experiences with jumping worms.

Take the survey»

Arboretum project staff will compile, analyze, and interpret the data with the goal of creating outreach materials that can be distributed to inform gardeners, landowners, and green industry professionals about which plants or plant families are and are not affected by jumping worms.

The Arboretum hopes this initial grant-funded project can lead to further research and outreach with gardeners, the green industryland managers, and community members interested in jumping worms.

—Brad Herrick, ecologist and research manager