Minnesota forested soils have evolved without the presence of earthworms since the last glacial retreat. When exotic earthworms arrive, enhanced soil bioturbation often results in dramatic morphological and chemical changes in soils with negative implications for the forests' sustainability. However, the impacts of earthworm invasion on geochemical processes in soils are not well understood. This study attempts to quantify the role of earthworm invasion in mineral chemical weathering and nutrient dynamics along an earthworm invasion chronosequence in a sugar maple forest in Northern Minnesota. Depth and rates of soil mixing can be tracked with atmospherically derived short lived radioisotopes 210Pb and 137Cs. Their radioactivities increase in the lower A horizon at the expense of the peak activities near the soil surface, which indicate that soil mixing rate and its depth reach have been enhanced by earthworms. Enhanced soil mixing by earthworms is consistent with the ways that the vertical profiles of elemental and mineralogical compositions were affected by earthworm invasion. Biologically cycled Ca and P have peak concentrations near the soil surface prior to earthworm invasion. However, these peak abundances significantly declined in the earthworm invaded soils presumably due to enhanced soil mixing. It is clear that enhanced soil mixing due to earthworms also profoundly altered the vertical distribution of most mineral species within A horizons. Though the mechanisms are not clear yet, earthworm invasion appears to have contributed to net losses of clay mineral species and opal from the A horizons. As much as earthworms vertically relocated minerals and elements, they also intensify the contacts between organic matter and cations as shown in the increased amount of Ca and Fe in organically complexed and in exchangeable pools. With future studies on soil mixing rates and elemental leaching, this study will quantitatively and mechanically address the role of earthworms in geochemical evolution of soils and forests' nutrient dynamics.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Thank you to Jim Barott (Chippewa National Forest), Rebecca D. Knowles, Ph.D. (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe), and Amy Lyttle (University of Minnesota) for their field work. We also thank Cristina Fernandez (University of Delaware) for her work earlier on the project. Thank you to the USDA for funding to Yoo, Aufdenkampe and Hale.