Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Non-native earthworms alter the assembly of a meadow plant community.

Abstract

Non-native earthworms can alter ecosystems by modifying soil structure, depredating seeds and seedlings, and consuming soil organic matter, yet the initial responses of plant communities to earthworm invasions remain poorly understood. We assessed the effect of non-native earthworms on seedling survival during germination and after establishment using six native and six non-native plant species grown from seed in single- and multi-species experimental mesocosms. We examined the extent to which earthworms (1) influenced seedling survival, (2) selectively depredated native versus non-native plants, (3) impacted establishment based on seed size and/or root morphology, and (4) shaped community assembly. The effect of earthworms on seedling survival varied temporally and among species but inconsistently with respect to species origin. Differences in seed/seedling survival translated to changes in community assembly. Earthworms tended to reduce species abundance, richness, evenness, and diversity in multi-species mesocosms and led to the divergence of communities by treatment. In general, species with large seeds and fibrous roots dominated communities with earthworms present, whereas species with small seeds and taproots only persisted in multi-species mesocosms without earthworms. Our findings suggest that earthworms act as ecological filters in the early stages of invasion to shape community composition based on plant morphological traits.