Affordable Access

Publisher Website

Soil chemistry turned upside down: a meta-analysis of invasive earthworm effects on soil chemical properties.

  • Ferlian, Olga1, 2
  • Thakur, Madhav P3
  • Castañeda González, Alejandra4
  • San Emeterio, Layla M5
  • Marr, Susanne1, 6, 7
  • da Silva Rocha, Barbbara8
  • Eisenhauer, Nico1, 2
  • 1 German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Deutscher Platz 5e, 04103, Leipzig, Germany. , (Germany)
  • 2 Institute of Biology, Leipzig University, Deutscher Platz 5e, 04103, Leipzig, Germany. , (Germany)
  • 3 Department of Terrestrial Ecology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), Droevendaalsesteeg 10, 6708 PB, Wageningen, The Netherlands. , (Netherlands)
  • 4 National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity (LANGEBIO), Center for Research and Advanced Studies, National Polytechnic Institute (CINVESTAV), Libramiento Norte Carretera León Km 9.6, 36821, Irapuato, México.
  • 5 Department of Biogeochemistry and Plant and Microbial Ecology, Institute of Natural Resources and Agrobiology (IRNAS), Av. Reina Mercedes, 10, 41012, Seville, Spain. , (Spain)
  • 6 Bioinformatics & Mass Spectrometry, Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry, Weinberg 3, 06120, Halle (Saale), Germany. , (Germany)
  • 7 Institute of Biology/Geobotany and Botanical Garden, Martin Luther University Halle Wittenberg, Am Kirchtor 1, 06108, Halle (Saale), Germany. , (Germany)
  • 8 Department of Ecology, Federal University of Goiás, Esperança Avenue, Campus Samambaia, 74690-900, Goiânia, Goiás, Brazil. , (Brazil)
Published Article
Publication Date
Nov 20, 2019
DOI: 10.1002/ecy.2936
PMID: 31749167


Recent studies have shown that invasive earthworms can dramatically reduce native biodiversity, both above and below the ground. However, we still lack a synthetic understanding of the underlying mechanisms behind these changes, such as whether earthworm effects on soil chemical properties drive such relationships. Here, we investigated the effects of invasive earthworms on soil chemical properties (pH, water content, and the stocks and fluxes of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus) by conducting a meta-analysis. Invasive earthworms generally increased soil pH, indicating that the removal of organic layers and the upward transport of more base-rich mineral soil caused a shift in soil pH. Moreover, earthworms significantly decreased soil water content, suggesting that the burrowing activities of earthworms may have increased water infiltration of and/or increased evapo-transpiration from soil. Notably, invasive earthworms had opposing effects on organic and mineral soil for carbon and nitrogen stocks, with decreases in organic, and increases in mineral soil. Nitrogen fluxes were higher in mineral soil, whereas fluxes in organic soil were not significantly affected by the presence of invasive earthworms, indicating that earthworms mobilize and redistribute nutrients among soil layers and increase overall nitrogen loss from the soil. Invasive earthworm effects on element stocks increased with ecological group richness only in organic soil. Earthworms further decreased ammonium stocks with negligible effects on nitrate stocks in organic soil, whereas they increased nitrate stocks but not ammonium stocks in mineral soil. Notably, all of these results were consistent across forest and grassland ecosystems underlining the generality of our findings. However, we found some significant differences between studies that were conducted in the field (observational and experimental settings) and in the lab, such as that the effects on soil pH decreased from field to lab settings, calling for a careful interpretation of lab findings. Our meta-analysis provides strong empirical evidence that earthworm invasion may lead to substantial changes in soil chemical properties and element cycling in soil. Furthermore, our results can help explain the dramatic effects of invasive earthworms on native biodiversity, e.g., shifts towards the dominance of grass species over herbaceous ones, as shown by recent meta-analyses. © 2019 by the Ecological Society of America.

Report this publication


Seen <100 times