Ecosystem Consequences of Exotic Earthworm Invasion of North Temperate Forests
The invasion of north temperate forests by exotic species of earthworms is an important issue that has been overlooked in the study and management of these forests. We initiated research to address the hypothesis that earthworm invasion will have large consequences for nutrient retention and uptake in these ecosystems. In this special feature of Ecosystems, we present five papers describing results from our experiment. In this paper, we (a) introduce our experimental approach and conceptual model of how earthworms influence forest ecosystem processes, (b) describe the characteristics of the study areas and earthworm communities at our two study locations, and (c) provide a brief overview and synthesis of the main findings. The most dramatic effect of earthworm invasion was the loss of the forest floor at an undisturbed forest site, which altered the location and nature of nutrient cycling activity in the soil profile. Invasion changed soil total carbon (C) and phosphorus (P) pools, carbon–nitrogen (C:N) ratios, the loss and distribution of different soil P fractions, and the distribution and function of roots and microbes. Response to invasion varied with site characteristics and earthworm species. Our results suggest that exotic earthworm invasion is a significant factor that will influence the structure and function of northern temperate forest ecosystems over the next few decades. Regional evaluations of these forests will need to consider the presence or absence of earthworms along with other important ecosystem drivers, such as pollution, climate, and underlying soil characteristics.