Recent studies have shown that invasive earthworms can dramatically reduce native biodiversity, both above and below the ground. However, we still lack a synthetic understanding of the underlying mechanisms behind these changes, such as whether earthworm effects on soil chemical properties drive such relationships. Here, we investigated the effects of invasive earthworms on soil chemical properties (pH, water content, and the stocks and fluxes of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus) by conducting a meta-analysis. Invasive earthworms generally increased soil pH, indicating that the removal of organic layers and the upward transport of more base-rich mineral soil caused a shift in soil pH. Moreover, earthworms significantly decreased soil water content, suggesting that the burrowing activities of earthworms may have increased water infiltration of and/or increased evapo-transpiration from soil. Notably, invasive earthworms had opposing effects on organic and mineral soil for carbon and nitrogen stocks, with decreases in organic, and increases in mineral soil. Nitrogen fluxes were higher in mineral soil, whereas fluxes in organic soil were not significantly affected by the presence of invasive earthworms, indicating that earthworms mobilize and redistribute nutrients among soil layers and increase overall nitrogen loss from the soil. Invasive earthworm effects on element stocks increased with ecological group richness only in organic soil. Earthworms further decreased ammonium stocks with negligible effects on nitrate stocks in organic soil, whereas they increased nitrate stocks but not ammonium stocks in mineral soil. Notably, all of these results were consistent across forest and grassland ecosystems underlining the generality of our findings. However, we found some significant differences between studies that were conducted in the field (observational and experimental settings) and in the lab, such as that the effects on soil pH decreased from field to lab settings, calling for a careful interpretation of lab findings. Our meta-analysis provides strong empirical evidence that earthworm invasion may lead to substantial changes in soil chemical properties and element cycling in soil. Furthermore, our results can help explain the dramatic effects of invasive earthworms on native biodiversity, e.g., shifts towards the dominance of grass species over herbaceous ones, as shown by recent meta-analyses.
|Date made available||16 Feb 2020|