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Invasive earthworms unlock arctic plant nitrogen limitation

Journal article
Authors G. Blume-Werry
E. J. Krab
J. Olofsson
Maja Sundqvist
M. Vaisanen
J. Klaminder
Published in Nature Communications
Volume 11
Issue 1
Pages 10
ISSN 2041-1723
Publication year 2020
Published at Department of Earth Sciences
Pages 10
Language en
Keywords tundra, soil, vegetation, decomposition, lumbricidae, communities, feedbacks, responses, patterns, growth, Science & Technology - Other Topics
Subject categories Earth and Related Environmental Sciences


Arctic plant growth is predominantly nitrogen (N) limited. This limitation is generally attributed to slow soil microbial processes due to low temperatures. Here, we show that arctic plant-soil N cycling is also substantially constrained by the lack of larger detritivores (earthworms) able to mineralize and physically translocate litter and soil organic matter. These new functions provided by earthworms increased shrub and grass N concentration in our common garden experiment. Earthworm activity also increased either the height or number of floral shoots, while enhancing fine root production and vegetation greenness in heath and meadow communities to a level that exceeded the inherent differences between these two common arctic plant communities. Moreover, these worming effects on plant N and greening exceeded reported effects of warming, herbivory and nutrient addition, suggesting that human spreading of earthworms may lead to substantial changes in the structure and function of arctic ecosystems. Arctic plant growth is predominantly nitrogen limited, where the slow nitrogen turnover in the soil is commonly attributed to the cold arctic climate. Here the authors show that the arctic plant-soil nitrogen cycling is also constrained by the lack of larger detritivores like earthworms.

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