, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 177-187

Do non-native earthworms in Southeast Alaska use streams as invasional corridors in watersheds harvested for timber?

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Abstract

Exotic earthworms from Europe and Asia have invaded previously earthworm-free areas of North America where they consume leaf litter, mix soil horizons, and alter nutrient cycling. Primarily, earthworm introductions occur through human activities; we hypothesized that the combination of logging (i.e., road construction and soil disturbance) and stream transport (i.e., hydrochory) allows earthworms to invade new ecosystems and spread within watersheds. On Prince of Wales Island, AK, we surveyed riparian zones in 11 watersheds with varying timber harvest intensity for terrestrial oligochaetes. Additionally, common invasive earthworms were experimentally submerged in a local stream to test for tolerance to prolonged immersion: all taxa survived immersion for at least 6 days. Using principal components analysis, watershed and harvest variables describing the watersheds upstream of our sampled riparian areas were reduced to two principal components describing harvest intensity (PC1) and harvest style (PC2). Logistic models successfully predicted earthworm abundance (r 2  = 0.70) from PC1, which indicated that watersheds with older, intense upstream timber harvest contained larger earthworm populations. Earthworm species richness was best predicted by PC2 (r 2  = 0.39), which suggested that earthworm communities in watersheds containing large clear-cut stands were more species-rich. Collectively, these results suggest that (1) invasive earthworms may use streams for dispersal and (2) upstream introductions via timber harvest can initiate downstream earthworm invasions. Hydrochory would allow invasive earthworms to spread at rates (tens of km d−1) that are much greater than previously reported rates of terrestrial spread (5–10 m y−1). Effective control of exotic earthworms in riparian zones will require watershed-level management and surveillance.