University of Oulu

Blume-Werry, G., Krab, E.J., Olofsson, J. et al. Invasive earthworms unlock arctic plant nitrogen limitation. Nat Commun 11, 1766 (2020).

Invasive earthworms unlock arctic plant nitrogen limitation

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Author: Blume-Werry, Gesche1,2; Krab, Eveline J.2,3; Olofsson, Johan2;
Organizations: 1Experimental Plant Ecology, Institute of Botany and Landscape Ecology, University of Greifswald, Soldmannstraße 15, 17487, Greifswald, Germany
2Climate Impacts Research Centre, Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå University, 981 07 Abisko, Sweden
3Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Soil and Environment, 750 07, Uppsala, Sweden
4Department of Earth Sciences, University of Gothenburg, 413 20, Gothenburg, Sweden
5Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, P. O. Box 122, 96101, Rovaniemi, Finland
6Ecology and Genetics Research Unit, University of Oulu, P. O. Box 3000, 90014, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.3 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2020
Publish Date: 2020-05-29


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.

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Series: Nature communications
ISSN: 2041-1723
ISSN-E: 2041-1723
ISSN-L: 2041-1723
Volume: 11
Article number: 1766
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-15568-3
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
Funding: We thank Lapplandstiftelsen, Swedish Research Council (2017-04548), FORMAS (2018-01301 and 2013-00533), Göran Gustafssons Stiftelse för natur och miljö i Lappland, the Gunnar och Ruth Björkmans fond för norrländsk botanisk forskning, and Oscar och Lilly Lammstiftelse for financial support.
Dataset Reference: Supplementary information is available for this paper at
Copyright information: © The Author(s) 2020. Open Access. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit