Leaf Litter Disappearance in Earthworm-Invaded Northern Hardwood Forests: Role of Tree Species and the Chemistry and Diversity of Litter

Andrew R. Holdsworth, Lee E. Frelich, Peter B. Reich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Earthworm invasion in North American temperate forest reduces forest floor mass, yet the interactions between litter composition, invasive earthworm community composition, and forest floor structure and composition are not well understood. For 2 years, we compared disappearance of leaf litter in field mesocosms in which we manipulated litter composition (monocultures of Quercus rubra, Acer saccharum, and Tilia americana litter, and an equal mixture of all three) and thereby the initial litter chemistry (C, C fractions, N, Ca) in sites with and without the major litter-feeding invasive earthworm species. The disappearance of litter mass followed the same ranking at both the sites: T. americana > equal mixtures > A. saccharum ≥ Q. rubra. However, differences in disappearance rate between the sites depended on litter composition and time. The differences in mass loss among litters of different compositions were greatest at the site invaded by the large litter-feeding earthworm, Lumbricus terrestris, and especially for T. americana and the mixture. Similarly, observed disappearance of the litter mixture was faster than predicted by an additive model at the site with L. terrestris, especially for the higher quality litter component in early summer. Initial litter calcium content was the best predictor (R 2 ≥ 0. 90) of overall litter mass remaining each year, supporting the idea of the importance of calcium in forest floor dynamics, especially in the presence of calciferous, invasive earthworms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)913-926
Number of pages14
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (DEB-0075236), the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the University of Minnesota Center for Hardwood Ecology, the Wilderness Research Foundation, and a University of Minnesota Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship. We thank M. Ogdahl, W. Eddy, B. Boyce, N. Worm, S. Schmidt, J. Yahnke, C. Mueller, D. Martin, J. Busse, and the Hobbie Lab for assistance with field and lab work. S. E. Hobbie, P. F. Hendrix, N. Eisenhauer, and S. Ziegler provided valuable comments on the manuscript. This study’s experiments comply with the current laws of the United States.


  • Acer saccharum
  • Lumbricus terrestris
  • Quercus rubra
  • Tilia americana
  • calcium
  • decomposition
  • earthworm invasion
  • lignin
  • litter mesocosms
  • northern hardwood forest


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