Spatial variability of an invasive earthworm (Amynthas agrestis) population and potential impacts on soil characteristics and millipedes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA
European and Asian earthworm invasions are widespread in North America. European earthworms especially are well-known to cause dramatic changes in ecosystems in northern, formerly glaciated portions of the continent, but less is known about the impacts of earthworm invasions in unglaciated areas inhabited by indigenous earthworms. We monitored fluctuations in the spatial extent of an Amynthas agrestis (Megascolecidae) population in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee, USA. Two years of monthly growing-season observations revealed that the distribution of the earthworm population was dynamic, but overall distribution was closely linked to temperature and moisture with dramatic reductions of earthworm numbers associated with very dry conditions. In plots where A. agrestis were more often detected, we measured increased A-horizon soil aggregation and decreased thickness of the Oe/Oa-horizon. However, A. agrestis was not related to A-horizon microbial biomass, A-horizon C:N, Oi-horizon (litter) thickness, or mass of forest floor (O-horizon). Reductions in millipede species richness and density were associated with frequency of A. agrestis presence, possibly due to direct competition for food resources (Oe/Oa material). This evidence for potentially negative interactions between millipedes and A. agrestis suggests that expansion of the non-native earthworm into new habitats in the Park may alter soil physical properties and could pose a threat to native millipede diversity.