A Fairbanks high school student has identified an earthworm species previously unknown to be in Interior Alaska.
West Valley High School senior Megan Booysen conducted survey for earthworms around Fairbanks last summer.
The effort yielded five known species and one previously undocumented in the Interior.
“The species that isn’t positively identified as a European one, so it might be native to the United States, to North America, which means that it might be native to Alaska,” Booysen said. “But we don’t know that for sure.”
Booysen is lead author of an article about the discovery published in a July issue of Biodiversity Data Journal.
Booysen, who worked with University of Alaska Museum of the North insect curator Derek Sikes and other scientists on the project, said more research will be needed to better understand earthworms in the interior.
“We’d like to expand the study range, like, all over the Interior, and get some more data from more varied locations,” Booysen said.
Booysen said if worms are found in remote places, it’s more likely they were not brought to the area by people, and may have existed prior to the Ice Age.
“In the Interior it wasn’t glaciated, so that’s why one of them might be native,” she said. “Because it may have survived the last Ice Age here.”
Booysen also points to the local worm survey as an important baseline, as the climate warms.
“Because you can compare it and see how the changing climate is affecting which earthworms can stay here and spread their range,” Booysen said.
Booysen said the presence of earthworms are important to understand because they change soil ecology and affect the types of plants that grow.
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