New study shows surprising connection between deer and earthworms

by Dan Kraker, MPR News
April 26, 2023

Tiny, squiggly earthworms that burrow underground, and large white-tailed deer that trod the fields and forests above them, may not appear to have much in common. But a new study led by a University of Minnesota graduate student shows surprising connections between the two species.

The research, recently published in the journal Ecology, shows that in northern forests, the presence of deer substantially increased the number of earthworms.

That’s an important connection, scientists say, because earthworms are invasive to Minnesota, and have hugely hurt the health of forests.

“”Invasive earthworms are ecosystem engineers which negatively impact fundamental ecosystem properties such as nutrient retention and the diversity of native plant species,” said Lee Frelich, Director of the university’s Center for Forest Ecology and an advisor on the research. “Deer exacerbate these negative impacts by increasing earthworm populations.”

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