Patterns of litter disappearance in a northern hardwood forest invaded by exotic earthworms

Esteban R. Suárez, Timothy J. Fahey, Joseph B. Yavitt, Peter M. Groffman, Patrick J. Bohlen

Producción científica: Contribución a una revistaArtículorevisión exhaustiva

96 Citas (Scopus)


A field study was conducted to evaluate the effects of exotic earthworm invasions on the rates of leaf litter disappearance in a northern hardwood forest in southcentral New York, USA. Specifically, we assessed whether differences in litter quality and the species composition of exotic earthworm communities affected leaf litter disappearance rates. Two forest sites with contrasting communities of exotic earthworms were selected, and disappearance rates of sugar maple and red oak litter were estimated in litter boxes in adjacent earthworm-free, transition, and earthworm-invaded plots within each site. After 540 days in the field, 1.7-3 times more litter remained in the reference plots than in the earthworm-invaded plots. In the earthworm-invaded plots, rates of disappearance of sugar maple litter were higher than for oak litter during the first year, but by the end of the experiment, the amount of sugar maple and oak litter remaining in the earthworm-invaded plots was identical within each site. The composition of the earthworm communities significantly affected the patterns of litter disappearance. In the site dominated by the anecic earthworm Lumbricus terrestris and the endogeic Aporrectodea tuberculata, the percentage of litter remaining after 540 days (∼17%) was significantly less than at the site dominated by L. rubellus and Octolasion tyrtaeum (∼27%). This difference may be attributed to the differences in feeding behavior of the two litter-feeding species: L. terrestris buries entire leaves in vertical burrows, whereas L. rubellus usually feeds on litter at the soil surface, leaving behind leaf petioles and veins. Our results showed that earthworms not only accelerate litter disappearance rates, but also may reduce the differences in decomposition rates that result from different litter qualities at later stages of decay. Similarly, our results indicate that earthworm effects on decomposition vary with earthworm community composition. Furthermore, because earthworm invasion can involve a predictable shift in community structure along invasion fronts or through time, the community dynamics of invasion are important in predicting the spatial and temporal effects of earthworm invasion on litter decomposition, especially at later stages of decay.

Idioma originalInglés
Páginas (desde-hasta)154-165
Número de páginas12
PublicaciónEcological Applications
EstadoPublicada - feb. 2006
Publicado de forma externa


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