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

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 carbon 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 litter decomposition rates and total soil respiration (TSR) over a full year were measured at two invaded and one uninvaded deciduous forest sites in southern Ontario. The uninvaded site was approximately 300m from one of the invaded sites and a distinct invasion front between the 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, litter decomposition 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 soil C pools 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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2018 Brad & Wayne Jennings