An alien ribbon worm species is wiping out native creatures in the Ogasawara island chain. (Provided by Tohoku University)

A single invasive worm species has nearly wiped out all creatures that help to decompose fallen leaves and other plants in the Ogasawara island chain, a World Natural Heritage site, researchers said.

The scientists primarily from Tohoku University said the ribbon worm, widely distributed in tropical regions, could eventually damage the forest ecosystem of the island chain south of Tokyo.

The findings have been published in the British journal Scientific Reports.

“I want people to spray bottles of vinegar, remove mud from the soles of their shoes and check their luggage when entering or exiting the promenades in the Ogasawara island chain to prevent the worm from spreading,” said Shotaro Shinobe, a graduate student who is a member of the research team.

Nearly all pill bugs, beach fleas and other creatures that play a role in the decomposition of plants started disappearing in wide areas of Chichijima and Hahajima islands, part of the Ogasawara island chain, in the 1980s.

But researchers did not know why this was happening.

The team surveyed underground creatures on the islands and what they feed on. They discovered that the ribbon worm species, which invaded the chain in the early 1980s, has preyed on pill bugs, beach fleas, spiders and other insects. The worm measures 2 to 6 centimeters long.