Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Exotic ecosystem engineers change the emergence of plants from the seed bank of a deciduous forest.

Abstract

The anthropogenic spread of exotic ecosystem engineers profoundly impacts native ecosystems. Exotic earthworms were shown to alter plant community composition of the understory of deciduous forests previously devoid of earthworms. We investigated the effect of two exotic earthworm species (Lumbricus terrestris L. and Octolasion tyrtaeum Savigny) belonging to different ecological groups (anecic and endogeic) on the emergence of plants from the seed bank of a northern North American deciduous forest using the seedling emergence method. We hypothesized that (1) exotic earthworms change the seedling emergence from the plant seed bank, (2) L. terrestris increases the emergence of plant seedlings of the deeper soil layer but decreases that of the upper soil layer due to plant seed burial, and (3) O. tyrtaeum decreases plant seedling emergence due the damage of plant seeds. Indeed, exotic earthworms altered the emergence of plant seedlings from the seed bank and the functional composition of the established plant seedlings. Surprisingly, although L. terrestris only marginally affected seedling emergence, O. tyrtaeum changed the emergence of native plant species from the seed bank considerably. In particular, the number of emerging grass and herb seedlings were increased in the presence of O. tyrtaeum in both soil layers. Moreover, the impacts of earthworms depended on the identity of plant functional groups; herb species benefited, whereas legumes suffered from the presence of exotic earthworms. The results highlight the strong effect of invasive belowground ecosystem engineers on aboveground ecosystem characteristics and suggest fundamental changes of ecosystems by human-spread earthworm species.