Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Interactive effects of white-tailed deer, an invasive shrub, and exotic earthworms on leaf litter decomposition.

Abstract

Herbivore overabundance and species invasions could alter decomposition rates in temperate forests, with consequent effects on carbon sequestration, nutrient retention, and other ecosystem processes. At local scales, herbivores, invasive plants, and soil macroinvertebrates can be important drivers of decomposition, but interactive effects among these different groups are unknown. We tested for the effects of white-tailed deer, Amur honeysuckle, and earthworm activity (manipulated via mesh exclusion) on litter decomposition rates and loss of litter nitrogen (N) in five hardwood forest sites in southwestern Ohio. Each site consisted of a 20 Ă— 20-m deer exclosure paired with a deer access plot; honeysuckle was removed from half of each plot. Effects of earthworm activity were tested using paired litter boxes of fine mesh (0.25 mm; earthworms excluded) or coarse mesh (10 mm; earthworm access). Restriction of earthworm activity in fine mesh treatments slowed litter decomposition and increased retention of N in the litter layer compared to coarse mesh. Deer access interacted with mesh treatments, with faster decomposition occurring in deer access, coarse mesh treatments relative to others. Greater earthworm biomass in deer access plots relative to deer exclosure plots corresponded with more rapid litter decomposition. Honeysuckle presence did not affect litter decomposition, but did increase litter N retention. The interactions between deer and earthworm activity indicate that reductions in deer populations may slow litter decomposition rates, increasing complexity of habitat structure at the soil surface, which relates to habitat for plants and animals.