Influence of Invasive Earthworms on Above and Belowground Vegetation in a Northern Hardwood Forest

  • Hopfensperger K
  • Leighton G
  • Fahey T
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Abstract

Scientists are beginning to have a firm grasp on the dramatic influence invasive earthworms can have on nutrient cycling in northern hardwood forests, yet a concrete understanding of their effects on plant communities is still needed. Towards this effort, we examined both the above and belowground plant communities, along with soil organic matter, pH, texture and light in Arnot Forest located in south central New York. Two transects were aligned parallel to previously defined gradients of earthworm density and were sampled in the spring and summer of 2008. We found plots codominated by multiple earthworm species decreased belowground seed abundance and species richness. Aboveground plant cover and diversity along with soil organic matter was lower along the transect with multiple earthworm species. In addition, we found earthworm density increased with soil pH, but did not detect relationships with soil texture or light intensity. Our results were consistent with previous findings of earthworms negatively affecting aboveground plant communities and soil organic matter, and increasing pH. Our study demonstrates the potential for exotic earthworms to dramatically alter forest soil seed banks; however, future research is needed to investigate complexities of earthworm community dynamics (e.g., number and life form of earthworm species) and to tease apart mechanisms responsible for changes in the belowground plant community. © 2011, American Midland Naturalist.

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Authors

  • Kristine N. Hopfensperger

  • Gavin M. Leighton

  • Timothy J. Fahey

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