, Volume 158, Issue 3, pp 499-510
Date: 30 Sep 2008

Non-native earthworms in riparian soils increase nitrogen flux into adjacent aquatic ecosystems

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Abstract

Riparian zones are an important transition between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and they function in nutrient cycling and removal. Non-native earthworms invading earthworm-free areas of North America can affect nutrient cycling in upland soils and have the potential to affect it in riparian soils. We examined how the presence of earthworms can affect riparian nutrient cycling and nutrient delivery to streams. Two mesocosm experiments were conducted to determine how (1) the biomass of earthworms and (2) earthworm species can affect nutrient flux from riparian zones to nearby streams and how this flux can affect streamwater nutrients and periphyton growth. In separate experiments, riparian soil cores were amended with one of four mixed earthworm biomasses (0, 4, 10, or 23 g m−2 ash-free dry mass) or with one of three earthworm species (Aporrectodea caliginosa, Lumbricus terrestris, L. rubellus) or no earthworm species. Riparian soil cores were coupled to artificial streams, and over a 36-day period, we measured nutrient leaching rates, in-stream nutrient concentrations, and periphyton growth. Ammonium leaching increased with increasing biomass and was greatest from the A. caliginosa treatments. Nitrate leaching increased through time and increased at a greater rate with higher biomass and from cores containing A. caliginosa. We suggest that the overall response of increased nitrate leaching [90% of total nitrogen (N)] was due to a combination of ammonium excretion and burrowing by earthworms, which increased nitrification rates. During both experiments, periphyton biomass increased through time but did not differ across treatments despite high in-stream inorganic N. Through time, in-stream phosphorus (P) concentration declined to <5 μg l−1, and periphyton growth was likely P-limited. We conclude that activities of non-native earthworms (particularly A. caliginosa) can alter biogeochemical cycling in riparian zones, potentially reducing the N-buffering capacity of riparian zones and altering stoichiometric relationships in adjacent aquatic ecosystems.

Communicated by Stefan Scheu.