Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Non-native earthworms promote plant invasion by ingesting seeds and modifying soil properties.

Abstract

Earthworms can have strong direct effects on plant communities through consumption and digestion of seeds, however it is unclear how earthworms may influence the relative abundance and composition of plant communities invaded by non-native species. In this study, earthworms, seed banks, and the standing vegetation were sampled in a grassland of central California. Our objectives were (i) to examine whether the abundances of non-native, invasive earthworm species and non-native grassland plant species are correlated, and (ii) to test whether seed ingestion by these worms alters the soil seed bank by evaluating the composition of seeds in casts relative to uningested soil. Sampling locations were selected based on historical land-use practices, including presence or absence of tilling, and revegetation by seed using Phalaris aquatica. Only non-native earthworm species were found, dominated by the invasive European species Aporrectodea trapezoides. Earthworm abundance was significantly higher in the grassland blocks dominated by non-native plant species, and these sites had higher carbon and moisture contents. Earthworm abundance was also positively related to increased emergence of non-native seedlings, but had no effect on that of native seedlings. Plant species richness and total seedling emergence were higher in casts than in uningested soils. This study suggests that there is a potential effect of non-native earthworms in promoting non-native and likely invasive plant species within grasslands, due to seed-plant-earthworm interactions via soil modification or to seed ingestion by earthworms and subsequent cast effects on grassland dynamics. This study supports a growing body of literature for earthworms as ecosystem engineers but highlights the relative importance of considering non-native-native interactions with the associated plant community.