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Glob Chang Biol. 2017 Mar;23(3):1065-1074. doi: 10.1111/gcb.13446. Epub 2016 Sep 3.

The unseen invaders: introduced earthworms as drivers of change in plant communities in North American forests (a meta-analysis).

Author information

1
German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Deutscher Platz 5e, 04103, Leipzig, Germany.
2
Institute of Biology, Leipzig University, Johannisallee 21, 04103, Leipzig, Germany.
3
Metapopulation Research Centre, Department of Biosciences, University of Helsinki, PO Box 65, 00014 Helsinki, Finland.
4
Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate Change, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, København, Denmark.
5
Center for Forest Ecology, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, USA.
6
Département de Biologie, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, QC, Canada.
7
Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, University Of Minnesota, 2003 Upper Buford Circle Suite 135, St. Paul, MN, 55108, USA.
8
Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA.
9
Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.
10
Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park, Forest Ecology Program, Winter Harbor, ME, USA.
11
Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA.
12
Département des sciences biologiques, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada.
13
Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, KY, USA.
14
Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, USA.
15
Natural Area Consultants, 1 West Hill School Road, Richford, NY, USA.
16
Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA.
17
College of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, Stevens Point, WI, USA.
18
Plant Biology and Conservation, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA.
19
Department of Plant Science, Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, IL, USA.

Abstract

Globally, biological invasions can have strong impacts on biodiversity as well as ecosystem functioning. While less conspicuous than introduced aboveground organisms, introduced belowground organisms may have similarly strong effects. Here, we synthesize for the first time the impacts of introduced earthworms on plant diversity and community composition in North American forests. We conducted a meta-analysis using a total of 645 observations to quantify mean effect sizes of associations between introduced earthworm communities and plant diversity, cover of plant functional groups, and cover of native and non-native plants. We found that plant diversity significantly declined with increasing richness of introduced earthworm ecological groups. While plant species richness or evenness did not change with earthworm invasion, our results indicate clear changes in plant community composition: cover of graminoids and non-native plant species significantly increased, and cover of native plant species (of all functional groups) tended to decrease, with increasing earthworm biomass. Overall, these findings support the hypothesis that introduced earthworms facilitate particular plant species adapted to the abiotic conditions of earthworm-invaded forests. Further, our study provides evidence that introduced earthworms are associated with declines in plant diversity in North American forests. Changing plant functional composition in these forests may have long-lasting effects on ecosystem functioning.

KEYWORDS:

biological invasions; community composition; earthworm invasion; introduced earthworms; meta-analysis; plant communities; plant diversity

PMID:
27590777
PMCID:
PMC5324548
DOI:
10.1111/gcb.13446
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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