Effects of earthworms and warming on tree seedling growth: a small-scale microcosm experiment.
Warming global temperatures are expected to strongly influence plant communities, yet there is limited knowledge of how these changes will interact with stressors such as the invasion of exotic earthworms. We conducted a small-scale microcosm experiment to assess the individual and interactive effects of warming and exotic anecic earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris L.) on the growth of sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.) seedlings. After 50 days, the elevated-temperature chamber created warmer and drier soil conditions and increased several measures of plant growth, including stem width, ratio of stem width to stem height, stem biomass, and fine-root biomass. Earthworms did not have any clear impacts on plant growth on their own nor in interactions with the temperature chambers. However, earthworms both reduced surface leaf litter cover and exposed soils, which could exacerbate evaporative losses and moisture stress in field soils resulting from a warming climate under different growing conditions. Future studies should consider the long-term effects of earthworm-temperature interactions on sugar maple growth, as well as diurnal and seasonal changes in temperature.