Invasive earthworms cause profound changes in forest floor thickness, soil structure and chemistry, and plant community composition within cold temperate hardwood forests. However, few studies have examined these effects across a continuum of earthworm invasion and in conjunction with canopy disturbance. The research objectives of this thesis were to determine the changes of earthworm invasion on the upper soil horizon's thickness, gravimetric water content, potential horizon field capacity, and available nitrogen and phosphorus; and plant communities in hardwood forest sites within Tettegouche State Park, MN USA. All sites were uneven-aged, unmanaged northern hardwood forests of an approximate age of 225 years. The canopies were dominated by sugar maple and had experienced substantial canopy disturbance (9.7 - 20.5% opening) during an ice storm in spring 2009. Earthworms were sampled in the fall of 2010-2011. Each of the four sites were invaded by differing earthworm assemblages ranging from minimally invaded (1 species and average biomass of 0.1729 AFDgrams/m2) to heavily invaded (5 species and average biomass of 14.12 AFDgrams/m2). In the upper soil horizons O horizon thickness decreased and A horizon thickness increased with increasing earthworm richness and biomass. Mineral soil gravimetric water content was measured biweekly (May-August 2011) but did not differ among sites. Total potential horizon field capacity, including the O horizon, determined that 53-59% of the available water in a 12 cm deep core at field capacity is held in the O horizon. Availability of NO3 was significantly higher in the heavily invaded site compared to all other sites. Plant communities were assessed in the summer of 2009-2011, nonmetric multidimensional scaling was used to analyze the relationship of herbaceous plant species richness and percent cover to environmental variables and that species richness and diversity indices were positively correlated with O horizon thickness and negatively correlated with earthworm richness and biomass. The main conclusions of this study are that 1) moderate canopy disturbance had no affect on soil characteristics, or earthworms and plant communities; 2) earthworm assemblages (richness and biomass) were strongly correlated with changes in forest floor thickness, moisture holding capacity, nitrogen availability and plant community composition in these sugar maple forests, and 3) traditional exclusion of the O horizon when measuring water holding capacity in forest soils should be reconsidered given the large proportion of potential water holding capacity it provides, and is lost when a site is heavily invaded by earthworms. The implications of the loss of the O horizon and the associated loss of water holding capacity on ecosystem functions and biotic communities of hardwood forest systems need to be more fully explored.
University of Minnesota M.S. thesis. June 2013. Major: Integrated Biosciences. Advisor: Dr. Cindy M. Hale. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 51 pages.
Bennett, Zachary David.
Investigation of soil and plant characteristics across a continuum of non-native earthworm invasion in hardwood forests, Tettegouche State Park, MN USA.
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