Introduced earthworms (Lumbricidae) in restored and remnant tallgrass prairies of southern Ontario
Keywords:Earthworm invasion, Invasive species, Restoration ecology, Tallgrass prairie restoration, Lumbricus terrestris
Introduced earthworms alter the trajectory and composition of plant communities, for example, through their feeding, burrowing behaviour, and interactions with seeds. High densities of several earthworm species may decrease native biodiversity and disrupt restoration efforts in tallgrass prairies. This affects efforts to conserve and restore such habitat, which is of high conservation and restoration priority in eastern North America and typically restored through seeding events. To date, Lumbricus terrestris (Lumbricidae) and other species have remained largely undocumented in tallgrass prairies. We surveyed 22 tallgrass prairie sites in southern Ontario, Canada, to document earthworm density and species. Lumbricus terrestris was found at all sites. The average density was 66 ± 91 (SD) earthworms/m2 across our sampling plots, mostly juveniles (~94%). The number of all earthworms per plot significantly increased with the number of earthworm middens in each plot (χ21 = 4.50, P = 0.034). Prairies with a large number of middens had high earthworm density, but middens alone appear to explain little variation in our data (linear mixed-effects model, marginal R2 = 0.12) meaning there are other biologically important factors that affect their density. However, we found no effects of soil pH, organic matter content, or texture on the number earthworms per plot suggesting that earthworms can invade a range of tallgrass prairie soils with pH values between 5.27 and 7.67.
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