Nature Notes 10 March 2014

From the road, just a couple of creature features from the recent web archives.

[su_heading]Virus Back From the Grave — yet another plot line for a SF writer.[/su_heading]

“Scientists at a laboratory in France have thawed out and revived an ancient virus found in the Siberian permafrost, making it infectious again for the first time in 30,000 years.

The giant virus known as Pithovirus sibericum was discovered about 100 feet deep in coastal tundra. The pathogen infects tiny amoebas – simple, one-celled organisms.

It isn’t dangerous to humans, but it’s reanimation raises questions about what else might be lurking under the ice…

which “suggests that the thawing of permafrost either from global warming or industrial exploitation of circumpolar regions might not be exempt from future threats to human or animal health,” the scientists write.

[su_heading]Earthworm: Destroyer of American Forests[/su_heading]

So much for what you have always believed about earthworms being the good guys–or even being native to the state or continent where you live (if you’re in North America at least.)

Almost all our earthworm species are not native but were dumped as ballast from the earliest sailing ships along the eastern shores and then carried inland in rootstock and especially by fishermen.

So what’s to worry about a few earthworms?

They eat their way quickly through the “O horizon” forest duff (extremely rich in organic variety and the “seed bed” for countless varieties of fungus, invertebrate, plants and amphibians).

This significantly alters the ecology of the forests, and represents what is probably one of the earliest invasives to the continent with a very large and now-permanent impact on forest ecosystems. And they are doing quite well, thank you.

Meanwhile, another invasive–the European honeybee–may not persist in meaningful numbers sufficient to sustain the billions of dollars of economic service their pollination has provided to our fruit and vegetable species.

NOTE: The creature featured in the image is NOT an earthworm but a rarely-noticed but not uncommon vertebrate. Its chief food source is earthworms. It is called the “worm snake.”

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

Articles: 3013

One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Wow. Who knew earthworms were invasive, and had changed our original forest ecosystems. I only knew they were such good helpers in soil creation. I recall a story about Thomas Jefferson riding across a stony field of his which got gradually less and lass stony. He realized it was eartthworms creating soil which buried the stones. Have you heard this factoid?