Ecosystem effects of non-native earthworms in Mid-Atlantic deciduous forests

Katalin Szlavecz, Melissa McCormick, Lijun Xia, Jaclyn Saunders, Taylan Morcol, Dennis Whigham, Timothy Filley, Csaba Csuzdi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

56 Citations (Scopus)


In many mid-Atlantic forests where both native and non-native earthworms exist, it is the non-native species that are the dominant component of the soil macrofauna. Few earthworm ecology studies, however, focus attention on these forest systems in order to determine the relative ecological roles and potential interactions of the native and non-native earthworms. In a series of field samplings and experimental manipulations we collected data on the effects of earthworms on below-and aboveground ecosystem processes. Earthworm abundance and the ecological processes measured were dynamic in space and time across the range of study sites. Leaf litter decay rates doubled at sites that had abundant non-native earthworms. Earthworms also altered the abundance of soil fungi, the activity of extracellular enzymes, soil respiration, and the growth of tree seedlings but the effects varied among sites depending on differences in land-use history and forest age. Red oak seedling growth was less at sites that had abundant earthworms but tulip poplar and red maple seedlings grew equally well with and without abundant earthworms. These preliminary results suggest that non-native earthworms have significant ecosystem effects, even in forests where native earthworms still occur. Land use history, however, plays an important role in determining what those effects will be, and these effects are likely to be dynamic, depending on the abundance of non-native earthworms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1165-1182
Number of pages18
JournalBiological Invasions
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2011



  • Invasive earthworms
  • Leaf litter decay
  • Microbial activity
  • Seedling growth
  • Soil respiration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology

Cite this

Szlavecz, K., McCormick, M., Xia, L., Saunders, J., Morcol, T., Whigham, D., Filley, T., & Csuzdi, C. (2011). Ecosystem effects of non-native earthworms in Mid-Atlantic deciduous forests. Biological Invasions, 13(5), 1165-1182.