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    Earthworms

The Earthworm Research Group (ERG) was established in 2003, but members of the group have been engaged in research of this nature for more than twenty years. We are one of the key research groups in this area (at a national and international level) and welcome contact with respect to potential collaborative research, consultancy or simply to answer earthworm-related questions.

The ERG was founded by Drs Kevin Butt and Chris Lowe and has worldwide members and associates.

Research

The last 25 years has seen an enormous expansion in earthworm research with the development of potential profit-related applications in vermiculture and organic waste processing. More recently applied research has investigated the role of earthworms in soil restoration, eco-toxicology, environmental monitoring and DNA analysis. Major advances have therefore been made, but despite this many fundamental questions still remain unanswered. There is still scope to undertake investigations into a group of organisms which have profound effects on soils through pedogenesis and maintenance of soil health. Earthworms may be regarded as Ecosystem Service providers.

The ERG has worked extensively with earthworm species from Britain and from numerous locations in northern temperate regions. Research has concentrated on the practical application of earthworms in areas such as soil restoration, organic waste management, bio-monitoring and eco-toxicology. Current overseas projects are linked with Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain and the USA.

Education

The ERG is concerned with more than research and provides educational materials, talks and seminars to schools and non-commercial organisations promoting the role of earthworms (e.g. in organic waste management and fertility of soils) as well as undertaking commercial / consultancy projects. We have been involved with a number of “Bioblitz” events and aim to promote earthworms as educational tools.

Dark and Light

The Earthworm Research Group has undertaken a research project with researchers from Finland and the USA. The work ‘Dew-worms in white nights’ was published in 2014 as “Nuutinen, V., Butt, K. R., Jauhiainen, L., Shipitalo, M and Sirén, T. (2014) Dew-worms in white nights: high latitude light condition constrain earthworm (Lumbricus terrestris) behaviour. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 72, 66-74.” The full research is now available to view.

The research used dew worms (Lumbricus terrestris) collected from woodland settings at 3 different latitudes; from the USA (40o N); in the UK – Preston (53o N) and in Finland (60o N) - (a total latitudinal range of more than 1,400 miles). The scientific literature and our own previous experimental work documents that to avoid predation, this species of earthworm comes to the soil surface to feed and to mate under cover of darkness (unlike most earthworms). Our research question set out to discover if this species can adapt its behaviour to conditions of white nights: periods of constant illumination experienced at higher northern latitudes in summer when darkness is never achieved. It also aimed to determine if animals collected from locations further south, which had never experienced such conditions, were able to adapt to continuous periods of light.

Experiments took place in Finland over the mid-summer (May/June) period. Webcam recordings were made of emergence patterns and frequency of surface foraging and mating under ambient conditions compared with an artificially-induced night. Results showed that ambient conditions reduced by half the surface activity of all dew worm compare to darkness, regardless of origin but Finnish worms were active for significantly longer periods than those from the USA or the UK.

Overall, results showed that in boreal summer, the high level of night illumination strongly limits soil surface activity of dew-worms. This may have an impact on crop residue removal and other ecosystem services provided by this species. Some results also point to a degree of phenotypic flexibility (adaptation) in non-Finnish dew worms to a light response.

Expertise & Subject Areas

The ERG has worked extensively with earthworm species from Britain and from numerous locations in temperate regions. Research has concentrated on the practical application of earthworms in areas such as soil restoration, organic waste management, bio-monitoring and eco-toxicology. Current overseas projects are linked with Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain and the USA.

ERG Members and Associates are engaged in research in the following areas:

  • Marking earthworms
  • Earthworms in Agro-Ecosystems
  • Earthworm Behaviour
  • Earthworms as Bioindicators
  • Earthworm Maintenance & Culture Techniques
  • Organic Waste Management
  • Population Dynamics
  • Use of Earthworms in Land Reclamation
  • Earthworms in History

See separate links for additional information.

Impact

Natural History Museum/OPAL

In collaboration with David Jones from the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London and OPAL (Open Air Laboratory) an earthworm identification guide has been produced by Chris Lowe (UCLan). This guide has been distributed free to the public in survey packs (n=50,000 packs) along with instructions on how to sample for earthworms. The information from these surveys is being collated by the NHM to enable a picture of earthworm distribution in England to be created.

Bioblitz events

Involvement in public awareness activities relating to rapid biodiversity assessment in Britain e.g. Lancashire Bioblitz (June 2011)

Recent television and radio coverage

  1. A 2009 BBC programme “Darwin’s Garden” featured Kevin Butt relating recent findings from the ERG to Darwin’s original work on earthworm Ecology at his home in Down House, Kent.
  2. A French production “Superworm” which featured numerous aspects of the ERG and featured both Kevin Butt and Chris Lowe.

Isle of Rum, Inner Hebrides

Research with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) on Rum has been highlighted here to show the presence of the largest recorded earthworms in Britain.

Kevin Butt was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 Today and BBC Radio 5 Live programmes in January 2016 about his discovery of Britain’s largest earthworm on the Isle of Rum in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland. To read about this research please read the news story

British Library Repository for web pages

During 2009, a request was received from The British Library to archive the ERG website: http://www.uclan.ac.uk/erg for the Darwin 200 Collection. This has taken place and means the ERG will be remembered beyond the life of the group.

Earthworm Society of Britain

This Society (separate from UCLan) is seeking national recognition and makes specific reference to UCLan’s ERG.

Publications

Recent Publications

2013

Lowe, C. N., Butt, K. R. and Sherman, R. L. (in press) Current and Potential Benefits of Mass Earthworm Culture. Chapter 22 in: Mass Production of Beneficial Organisms. (Eds. Morales-Ramos, J.A., Rojas, G. and Shapiro-Ilan, D.) Elsevier, India.
Blouin, M., Hodson, M. E., Aranda Delgado, E., Baker, G., Brussaard, L., Butt, K.R., Dai, J., Dendooven, L., Pérès, G., Tondoh, J., Cluzeau, J. and Brun, J-J (in press) A review of earthworm impact on soil function and ecosystem services. European Journal of Soil Science,
Grigoropoulou, N. and Butt, K. R. (in press) Assessment of burrow re-use by Lumbricus terrestris L. through field experimentation. Zeszyty Naukowe
Porco, D., Decaëns, T., Deharveng, L., James, S.W., Skarżyńsk, D., Erséus, C., Butt, K.R., Richard, B. and Hebert, P. (in Press) Biological invasions in soil: DNA barcoding as a monitoring tool in a multiple taxa survey targeting European earthworms and springtails in North America. Biological Invasions,
Snyder, B. A., Callaham Jr, M. A., Lowe, C. N. and Hendrix, P. F. (2013) Earthworm invasion in North America: Food resource competition affects native millipede survival and invasive earthworm reproduction. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 57 212-216.

2012

Callaham, M. A. Jr., Butt, K. R. and Lowe, C. N. (2012) Stable isotope evidence for marine-derived avian inputs of nitrogen into detrital foodwebs on the Isle of Rum, Scotland, UK. European Journal of Soil Biology 52, 78-83.
Gilbert and Butt (2012) Effects of fertilisers on vegetation of ultrabasic terraces (1965-2010): Isle of Rum, Scotland. Glasgow Naturalist 25 (4).

2011

Butt, K. R. (2011) Food quality affects production of Lumbricus terrestris (L.) under controlled environmental conditions. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 43, 2169-2175.
Butt, K. R. (2011) The Earthworm Inoculation Unit (EIU) technique: Development and use in soil improvement over two decades. Chapter 6 (pp 87-105) in: (Karaca, A: Ed.) Biology of Earthworms, Springer, Heidelberg.
Butt, K. R. and Briones, M. J. I. (2011) Life cycle studies of the earthworm Lumbricus friendi (Cognetti, 1904). Pedobiologia 54S, 27-29.
Butt, K. R. and Lowe, C. N. (2011) Controlled cultivation of endogeic and anecic earthworms. Chapter 7 (pp 107-121) in: (Karaca, A: Ed.) Biology of Earthworms, Springer, Heidelberg.
Butt, K. R. (2011) Chapter 21: The Use of Vermiculture for Land Improvement, pp 335-348 in: Edwards CA, Aracon, NQ and Sherman, R (eds) Vermiculture Technology: Earthworms, Organic Waste and Environmental Management. Taylor and Francis, Boca Ratan.
Butt, K. R. and Williams, B. (2011) Chapter 26: Vermiculture and vermicomposting in the United Kingdom, pp 323-435 in: Edwards CA, Aracon, NQ and Sherman, R (eds) Vermiculture Technology: Earthworms, Organic Waste and Environmental Management. Taylor and Francis, Boca Ratan.
Dupont, L., Lazrek, F., Porco, D., King R.A., Rougerie, R., Symondson. W. O. C., Livet, A., Richard, B. Decaens, T., Butt, K.R. and Mathieu, J. (2011) New insight into the genetic structure of the Allolobophora chlorotica aggregate in Europe using microsatellite and mitochondrial data. Pedobiologia 54, 217-224.
Nuutinen, V., Butt, K. R. and Jauhiainen, L. (2011) Field margins and management affect settlement and spread of an introduced dew-worm (Lumbricus terrestris L.) population. Pedobiologia 54S, 167-172.

2010

Butt, K. R. and Grigoropoulou, N. (2010) "Basic Research Tools for Earthworm Ecology," Applied and Environmental Soil Science, vol. 2010, Article ID 562816, 12 pages, 2010. doi:10.1155/2010/562816. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/aess/2010/562816.html
Butt, K. R., Kostecka, J. and Lowe, C.N. (2010) Field collection of earthworms: Comparisons of commonly used techniques. Zesz. Probl. Post. Nauk Rol. 547. 67-75.
Fründ, H-C., Butt, K.R., Capowiez, Y., Eisenhauer, N., Emmerling, C., Ernst, G., Potthoff, M., Schädler M. and Schrader, S. (2010) Using earthworms as model organisms in the laboratory: recommendations for experimental implementations. Pedobiologia 53, 119-125.
Grigoropoulou, N., Butt, K. R. (2010) Field investigations of Lumbricus terrestris spatial distribution and dispersal through monitoring of manipulated, enclosed plots. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 42, 40-47.

2009

Butt, K. R., Briones, M. J. I. and Lowe, C. N. (2009) Is tagging with visual implant elastomer a reliable technique for marking earthworms? Pesquisa Agropecuaria Brasileira 44, 969-974.
Grigoropoulou, N., Butt, K. R. and Lowe, C. N. (2009) Interactions of juvenile Lumbricus terrestris with adults and their burrow systems in a two-dimensional microcosm. Pesquisa Agropecuaria Brasileira 44, 964-968.
Nuutinen, V. Butt, K. R. (2009) Worms from the cold: lumbricid life stages in boreal clay during frost. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 41, 1580-1582.
Langdon, C., Morgan, A.J., Charnock, J.M., Semple, K.T., Lowe, C.N. (2009) As-resistance in laboratory reared F1, F2 and F3 generation offspring of the earthworm Lumbricus rubellus inhabiting an As-contaminated mine soil. Environmental Pollution 157 (11), 3114-3119.

2008

Butt, K. R. (2008) Earthworms in soil restoration: lessons learnt from UK case studies of land reclamation. Restoration Ecology 16, 637-641.
Butt, K. R., Lowe, C. N., Beasley, T., Hanson, I. and Keynes, R. (2008) Darwin’s earthworms revisited. European Journal of Soil Biology 44, 255-259.
Chamberlain, E. J. and Butt, K. R. (2008) Distribution of earthworms and influence of soil properties across a successional sand dune ecosystem in NW England. European Journal of Sol Biology 44, 554-558.
Grigoropoulou, N., Butt, K. R. and Lowe, C. N. (2008) Effects of adult Lumbricus terrestris on cocoons and hatchlings in Evans' boxes. Pedobiologia 51, 343-349.
Lowe, C. N. and Butt, K. R. (2008) Allolobophora chlorotica (Savigny, 1826): Evidence for classification as two separate species. Pedobiologia 52, 81-84.
Lowe, C. N., Butt, K. R. and Ormerod, T. (2008) Development of inoculated and naturally colonised earthworm populations on landfill cap ameliorated with composted green waste. Communications in Waste and Resource Management 9, 87-92.
Lowe, C. N. and Butt, K. R. (2008) Life cycle traits of the parthenogenetic earthworm Octolasion cyaneum (Savigny, 1826). European Journal of Soil Biology 44, 541-544.
Lowe, C.N. and Butt, K.R. (2008) Preliminary evidence for the adoption of Allolobophora viriscens (Savigny, 1826). Proceedings of 3rd IOTM, Cyprus 2007: pp. 63-68.
Moffat, A. J., Hutchings, T.R., Tubby, I., Butt, K. R and Lowe, C.N (2008) Experimental woodland establishment on brick clays in southern England. Land Contamination and Reclamation 16, 181-190.

Members

Dr Kevin Butt

Dr Chris Lowe


Dr Maria Briones, Universidad de Vigo

Departamento de Ecologia y Biologia Animal, Facultad de Biologia
36310 Vigo, SPAIN


Dr Mac Callaham

The Center for Forest Disturbance Science
USDA Forest Service's Southern Research Station
University of Georgia


Dr Elena Vanguelova

Forest Research
Forestry Commission
Alice Holt Lodge
Farnham
Surrey GU10 4LH
UK


Randal Keynes OBE

The Charles Darwin Trust
PO Box 31651
London
W11 4YX
UK


Dr Joanna Kostecka

Faculty of Agriculture and Biology
University of Rzeszow
Poland


Dr Andy Moffat

Forest Research
Forestry Commission
Alice Holt Lodge
Farnham
Surrey GU10 4LH
UK


Dr Visa Nuutinen

MTT-Agrifood Research Finland
Fin-31600 Jokioinen
Finland


Dr Olaf Schmidt

UCD School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine
Agriculture and Food Science Centre
University College Dublin
Bellfield Dublin 4
Ireland


Additional information

Although primarily an academic-focused research group we also work with schools and other non-commercial organisations providing earthworm-related talks, seminars and events. The ERG has also produced a fact file guide to Common British Earthworm Species that schools, amateur naturalists and students may find useful.

Members of the ERG are encouraged by the University of Central Lancashire to act as consultants where appropriate. If you are a member of an organisation that has any questions or problems associated with soils or organic waste processing with which earthworms may assist, please feel free to contact us. Application of the knowledge gained over decades of research is a key part in the rationale for existence of the ERG.

Recently we have advised major companies in England and Scotland on the use of earthworm introduction into restored industry-related and sport-related soils; have verified earthworm identification for an environmental organisation conducting large scale survey work. Details of these consultations cannot be supplied as the work is “commercial in confidence”.

Contact the ERG

Dr Kevin Butt (Reader in Ecology) : email: krbutt@uclan.ac.uk

Earthworm Research Group
School of Built and Natural Environment
University of Central Lancashire
Preston PR1 2HE
Lancashire
UK

Tel: (01772) 893966

Related Research Groups

Recent PhDs Jointly funded by SBNE and Forest Research:

2013 - Soil quality under brownfield land – provision of wider ecosystem services

2012 Collaboration with Lancashire Wildlife Trust on “The Croston Worm” project (funded by Natural England)

2009 - Short Rotation Forestry and earthworms: Impacts and responses

Related Projects

Commercial Projects

Project Work

Previous consultancy has included:

  • Information on processing of paper pulp using vermi-technology
  • Advice on removal of moles from ornamental lawns
  • Provision of knowledge and earthworms to improve turf aeration and water infiltration into soils
  • Engagement with film makers on historical aspects of earthworm research
  • Use of earthworm images to illustrate text books