Broad and local-scale patterns of exotic earthworm functional groups in forests of National Wildlife Refuges of the Upper Midwest, USA

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College of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


The National Wildlife Refuge System is the world’s largest network of lands set aside specifically for wildlife conservation. For refuge planners and managers tasked with maintaining ecological integrity and wildlife habitat, many uncertainties exist. In forests in the Upper Midwest, for instance, exotic earthworms are impacting ecosystem structure and function, but their community composition and effects on refuges is unknown. We examined the association of earthworm functional group abundance and community composition within upland forests of refuges with broad scale patterns of anthropogenic land use and local scale differences in forest characteristics. Patterns of anthropogenic land cover, including proportion of the land, mean patch area, and largest patch index, were strongly correlated with the biomass of epi-endogeic earthworms. Earthworm community diversity, however, was inversely related to patterns of dominating anthropogenic land cover, and increased under high ratios of natural to anthropogenic lands in the surrounding ecoregion. Within forests, earthworm community composition could be partially explained by variables representing both dispersal opportunities and habitat suitability. In general, heavily-invaded forests had low conifer dominance, high silt content, high basal area, greater amounts of anthropogenic cover within 500 m, and were closer to roads and farther from agriculture. However, the relationship between local forest characteristics and biomass differed greatly among earthworm functional groups and between refuges dominated by natural lands and those dominated by anthropogenic lands. For refuges with high earthworm loads and well developed earthworm communities, managers may be confounded in restoring historic conditions and may need to look at multiple tools, including artificial regeneration, to mitigate for current earthworm effects. In refuges seemingly in earlier stages of earthworm invasion, future planning and management should be tempered by potential effects observed in those refuges in more anthropogenic landscapes.

Publisher's Statement

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-015-0982-4

Publication Title

Biological Invasions