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The Impact of Invasive Earthworms on Soil Respiration and Soil Carbon Within Temperate Hardwood Forests

Abstract

Improving current understanding of the factors that control soil carbon (C) dynamics in forest ecosystems remains an important topic of research as it plays an integral role in the fertility of forest soils and the global C cycle. Invasive earthworms have the potential to alter soil C dynamics, though mechanisms and effects remain poorly understood. To investigate potential effects of invasive earthworms on forest C, the forest floor, mineral soil, fine root biomass, litterfall and microbial litter decay rates, and total soil respiration (TSR) over a full year were measured at an invaded and uninvaded deciduous forest site in southern Ontario. The uninvaded site was approximately 300 m from the invaded site and a distinct invasion front between sites was present. Along the invasion front, the biomass of the forest floor was negatively correlated with earthworm abundance and biomass. There was no significant difference between litterfall, microbial litter decay, and TSR between the invaded and uninvaded sites, but fine root biomass was approximately 30% lower at the invaded site. There was no significant difference in total soil C pools (0–30 cm) between the invaded and uninvaded sites. Despite profound impacts on forest floor soil C pools, earthworm invasion does not significantly increase TSR, most likely because increased heterotrophic respiration associated with earthworms is largely offset by a decrease in autotrophic respiration caused by lower fine root biomass.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Michele Williamson from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, for providing additional soil temperature data. A thank you is also extended to Ontario Parks, especially Travis Cameron (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry), for granting authorization to conduct research within the Kawartha Highlands Signature Site. This work was funded by a NSERC grant awarded to SAW.

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Correspondence to Shaun A. Watmough.

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Bradley Jennings performed all field work, lab work, and conducted all the statistical analysis. Shaun Watmough conceived the idea, directed field work, and assisted in data interpretation. Bradley Jennings and Shaun Watmough co-wrote the manuscript.

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Jennings, B.W., Watmough, S.A. The Impact of Invasive Earthworms on Soil Respiration and Soil Carbon Within Temperate Hardwood Forests. Ecosystems 19, 942–954 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-016-9977-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-016-9977-y

Keywords

  • earthworms
  • forests
  • soil respiration
  • carbon
  • forest floor