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Susceptibility of a Northern Hardwood Forest to Exotic Earthworm Invasion

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Abstract:  Numerous exotic earthworm species are colonizing northern hardwood forests of North America, where no native earthworms exist. Upon invasion, earthworms have been shown to alter the surface soil environment and plant populations and communities. We sought to identify land‐use factors in the Ottawa National Forest (ONF), Michigan (U.S.A.), that contribute to earthworm invasion in forest dominated by sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.) so that the susceptibility to additional colonization could be evaluated. We sampled earthworm communities in Sylvania Wilderness Area, a unique old‐growth hardwood forest, and nonwilderness sites influenced by recreational fishing, recent timber harvesting, or roads. All the nonwilderness sites contained one to five species of exotic earthworms. In contrast, only 50% of wilderness sites contained exotic earthworms, all of a single species. Nonwilderness sites also had thinner litter and duff layers, higher soil C and N content, and higher nitrogen mineralization potentials than Sylvania sites. Two central differences between Sylvania and nonwilderness sites were that all nonwilderness sites were in close contact with roads and had a history of timber harvest, whereas these factors were not present in Sylvania Wilderness Area. Using average rates of colonization, we constructed two geographic information system models to estimate the percentage of sugar maple on the ONF falling within a theoretical 100‐year invasion distance of roads and of second‐growth sugar maple as relative indices of susceptibility to invasion. Both models indicated high susceptibility to invasion, with 91.7% and 98.9% of sugar maple habitat falling within a theoretical 100‐year invasion distance of roads or historical harvests, respectively.
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Language: English

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences, University of Montana, 32 Campus Drive, Missoula, MT 59812, U.S.A.

Publication date: August 1, 2005

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