Rainfall, slopewash (the erosion of soil particles), surface runoff, and fine-litter transport were measured in tropical wet forest on a hillslope in the Luquillo Experimental Forest, Puerto Rico, from February 1998 until April 2000. Slopewash data were collected using Gerlach troughs at eight plots, each 2 square meters in area. Earthworms were excluded by electroshocking from four randomly selected plots. The other four (control) plots were undisturbed. During the experiment, earthworm population in the electroshocked plots was reduced by 91 percent. At the end of the experiment, the electroshocked plots had 13 percent of earthworms by count and 6 percent by biomass as compared with the control plots. Rainfall during the sampling period (793 days) was 9,143 millimeters. Mean and maximum rainfall by sampling period (mean of 16 days) were 189 and 563 millimeters, respectively. Surface runoff averaged 0.6 millimeters and 1.2 millimeters by sampling period for the control and experimental plots, equal to 0.25 and 0.48 percent of mean rainfall, respectively. Disturbance of the soil environment by removal of earthworms doubled runoff and increased the transport (erosion) of soil and organic material by a factor of 4.4. When earthworms were removed, the erosion of mineral soil (soil mass left after ashing) and the transport of fine litter were increased by a factor of 5.3 and 3.4, respectively. It is assumed that increased runoff is a function of reduced soil porosity, resulting from decreased burrowing and reworking of the soil in the absence of earthworms. The background, or undisturbed, downslope transport of soil, as determined from the control plots, was 51 kilograms per hectare and the "disturbance" rate, determined from the experimental plots, was 261 kilograms per hectare. The background rate for downslope transport of fine litter was 71 kilograms per hectare and the disturbance rate was 246 kilograms per hectare. Data from this study indicate that the reduction in soil macrofauna population, in this case, earthworms, plays a key role in increasing runoff and soil erosion and, therefore, has important implications for forest and water management.
|Title||Effects of earthworms on slopewash, surface runoff, and fine-litter transport on a humid-tropical forested hillslope in eastern Puerto Rico: Chapter G in Water quality and landscape processes of four watersheds in eastern Puerto Rico|
|Authors||Matthew C. Larsen, Zhigang Liu Liu, Xiaoming Zou|
|Publication Subtype||USGS Numbered Series|
|Series Title||Professional Paper|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Branch of Regional Research-Central Region|