Tree rings detect earthworm invasions and their effects in northern Hardwood forests

Abstract

Invasions of European earthworms into the forests of northern North America are causing dramatic changes in forest floor structure, vegetation communities, biogeochemical cycling, and site hydrology. However, long-term studies on the effects of invasive earthworms are limited because little data exist on the timing and rate of earthworm invasion at specific sites. We successfully used tree rings to identify the timing of earthworm invasions and the effects of earthworm activity on the Acer saccharum overstory of two recently invaded sites in northern Minnesota, thereby establishing a method to date earthworm invasions at other sites. In addition to identifying a tree-ring signature related to earthworm invasion, we found trees growing in invaded conditions were more sensitive to drought than trees growing in earthworm-free conditions. Increased drought sensitivity by A. saccharum has important implications for possible range shifts under climate change scenarios that include increasing drought frequency and severity.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Ian Aldrich, Ruth Baker, Chaïna Bapikee, Ryan Hueffmeier, Danny Margoles, and Julia Sawa for their assistance in the field, and Kenny Blumenfeld for his insightful comments on the most recent climate predictions for Minnesota. The comments of two anonymous reviewers and Daniel Simberloff improved this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Evan R. Larson.

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Larson, E.R., Kipfmueller, K.F., Hale, C.M. et al. Tree rings detect earthworm invasions and their effects in northern Hardwood forests. Biol Invasions 12, 1053–1066 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-009-9523-3

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Keywords

  • Acer saccharum
  • Climate-tree growth relationship
  • Dendroecology
  • Earthworm invasion
  • European earthworms
  • Northern Minnesota