Soil macroinvertebrate communities across a productivity gradient in deciduous forests of eastern North America
Within the temperate, deciduous forests of the eastern US, diverse soil-fauna communities are structured by a combination of environmental gradients and interactions with other biota. The introduction of non-native soil taxa has altered communities and soil processes, and adds another degree of variability to these systems. We sampled soil macroinvertebrate abundance from forested sites in Missouri (MO), Michigan (MI), Massachusetts (MA), and New Hampshire (NH), with the objective of comparing community assemblages and evaluating the role of invasive earthworms along the temperature–productivity gradient represented by the sites. The primary detritivores encountered were earthworms and millipedes. Earthworms were collected only in MO and MI, and at much greater density in MO. Millipedes were found at every site except in MO, and at their highest mean density in NH. Warmer temperatures, higher litter productivity, and low Oa horizon depth (as found in MO) were correlated with high earthworm activity. Oa horizon depth was the greatest in NH, where the macroinvertebrate community was dominated (in terms of abundance) by predators and herbivores, not detritivores. Our results are suggestive of, and congruent with, the concept of earthworms as ecosystem engineers, as we found that the presence of non-native earthworm species was associated with significant differences in soil characteristics such as apparent rapid decomposition rates and reduced carbon storage in the Oa horizon.