Exotic tree and shrub invasions alter leaf-litter microflora and arthropod communities.
Approximately 90% of all annual net primary productivity in temperate deciduous forests ends up entering the detritus food web as leaf litter. Due to chemical and physical differences from native litter, inputs from invasive species may impact the litter-dwelling community and ecosystem processes. We compared leaf-litter nutritional quality and decomposition rates from two invasive shrubs, Lonicera maackii and Rhamnus davurica, and the invasive tree Ailanthus altissima to litter from native oak-hickory forest in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, USA. We sampled litter from both invaded and uninvaded habitats and conducted litter colonization experiments to test for effects on microflora and the litter-dwelling arthropod communities. Litter from all three invasive species decomposed more rapidly than native litter, with native habitats averaging two to nearly five times as much litter by June. Invasive litter had higher nitrogen concentration and lower C:N ratios than native litter. Invasive litter supported greater growth of bacteria and fungi. Higher numbers of arthropods colonized invasive litter than native litter, but litter arthropod numbers on the forest floor of invaded habitats dropped in the early summer as litter decomposed. Litter had no effect on arthropod richness. Over short time scales, our results indicate that these invasive species represent beneficial, novel resources for the litter-dwelling community. However, the short-lived nature of this resource resulted in a crash in the abundance of the litter-dwelling organisms once the litter decomposed. As a whole, native habitat seems to support a larger, more stable litter-dwelling community over the course of a growing season.