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.
Field of science
- Ecology, evolutionary biology