Invasive Asian earthworms negatively impact keystone terrestrial salamanders.
Asian pheretimoid earthworms (e.g. Amynthas and Metaphire spp.) are invading North American forests and consuming the vital detrital layer that forest floor biota [including the keystone species Plethodon cinereus (Eastern Red-backed Salamander)], rely on for protection, food, and habitat. Plethodon cinereus population declines have been associated with leaf litter loss following the invasion of several exotic earthworm species, but there have been few studies on the specific interactions between pheretimoid earthworms and P. cinereus. Since some species of large and active pheretimoids spatially overlap with salamanders beneath natural cover objects and in detritus, they may distinctively compound the negative consequences of earthworm-mediated resource degradation by physically disturbing important salamander activities (foraging, mating, and egg brooding). We predicted that earthworms would exclude salamanders from high quality microhabitat, reduce foraging efficiency, and negatively affect salamander fitness. In laboratory trials, salamanders used lower quality microhabitat and consumed fewer flies in the presence of earthworms. In a natural field experiment, conducted on salamander populations from "non-invaded" and "pheretimoid invaded" sites in Ohio, salamanders and earthworms shared cover objects ∼60% less than expected. Earthworm abundance was negatively associated with juvenile and male salamander abundance, but had no relationship with female salamander abundance. There was no effect of pheretimoid invasion on salamander body condition. Juvenile and non-resident male salamanders do not hold stable territories centered beneath cover objects such as rocks or logs, which results in reduced access to prey, greater risk of desiccation, and dispersal pressure. Habitat degradation and physical exclusion of salamanders from cover objects may hinder juvenile and male salamander performance, ultimately reducing recruitment and salamander abundance following Asian earthworm invasion.