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Earthworms, Millipedes, and Soil Carbon in the Eastern U.S.

Photo of Sampling for soil macroinvertebrates in Bartlett Experimental Forest (White Mountain National Forest) in New Hampshire. Evelyn S. Wenk, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Sampling for soil macroinvertebrates in Bartlett Experimental Forest (White Mountain National Forest) in New Hampshire. Evelyn S. Wenk, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Snapshot : Earthworms, millipedes, and other soil invertebrates directly contribute to forest soil processes such as leaf litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation. There is relatively little known about how the composition of soil macroinvertebrate communities varies across temperature and moisture gradients in eastern deciduous forests. Forest Service scientists found that non-native earthworms were associated with declines in other important groups of detritivores (invertebrates that eat decaying plant matter), such as millipedes, as well as with much faster decomposition rates of leaf litter in the forest floor.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Callaham, Mac 
Research Location : Baskett Wildlife Research and Education Center, University of Missouri, University of Michigan Biological Station, Harvard Forest, Mass., Bartlett Experimental Forest, N.H.
Research Station : Southern Research Station (SRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 1015

Summary

Soil invertebrates are an important component of the forest floor in deciduous forests of the eastern U.S., and their activities directly contribute to processes such as leaf litter decomposition and soil organic matter formation. Despite this there have been surprisingly few attempts to examine the composition of soil macroinvertebrate communities. Forest Service scientists sampled soil invertebrates across a wide range of deciduous forests in the eastern U.S. with a focus on large detritivores such as earthworms and millipedes. The scientists found only non-native earthworms and these only in the western sites (Missouri and Michigan), with very large numbers of earthworms collected at the warmer site (Missouri). Millipedes on the other hand were collected at all sites except the Missouri site, and in greatest abundance in the coolest and wettest site (New Hampshire).

These results suggest that non-native earthworms may interfere with the native millipedes, and further suggest that these non-native earthworms may significantly accelerate the decomposition of leaf litter in forest soils where they are abundant. The resulting changes to the soil could have profound effects on plant communities.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • Dr. Paul J. Hanson, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Environmental Sciences Division

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