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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

2016
Butt, K. R., Callaham, M.A. Jr, Loudermilk, E.L. and Blaik, R. (2016) Action of earthworms on flint burial – A return to Darwin’s estate. Applied Soil Ecology 104, 157-162.
Lowe, C. N., Butt, K. R. and Cheynier, K. Y.-M. (2016) Assessment of avoidance behaviour by earthworms (Lumbricus rubellus and Octolasion cyaneum) in linear pollution gradients. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 124, 324-328.

2015
Butt, K.R., Lowe, C.N., Callaham, M.A. Jr., and Nuutinen, V. (2015) An oasis of fertility on a barren island: Earthworms at Papadil, Isle of Rum. Glasgow Naturalist 26 (2) http://www.glasgownaturalhistory.org.uk/gn26_2.html
Butt, K. R. and Walmsley, T. (2015) Sustainability of earthworm communities in translocated grasslands: The first decade after Runway 2 construction at Manchester Airport. Polish Journal of Sustainable Development 19, 7-12. http://www2.univ.rzeszow.pl/wbr/zeszyty/pl/index.html
Kostecka, J. and Butt, K. R. (2015) Field and laboratory studies of the earthworm Dendrobaena alpina (Rosa, 1884). Journal of Ecological Engineering 16, 213-217.
Montecchio L, Scattolin L, Squartini A, and Butt K. (2015) Potential spread of forest soil-borne fungi through earthworm consumption and casting. iForest-Biogeosciences and Forestry 8, 295-301 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3832/ifor1217-008

2014
Lowe, C. N., Butt, K. R. and Sherman, R. L. (2014) Current and potential benefits of mass earthworm culture. In: Mass Production of Beneficial Organisms - Invertebrates and Entomopathogens. Elsevier (Academic Press), London, pp. 677-710.
Rajapaksha, N. S. S., Butt, K. R., Vanguelova, E. and Moffat, A. J. (2014) Short Rotation Forestry - earthworm interactions: a field based mesocosm experiment. Applied Soil Ecology 76, 52-59.
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.
Butt K. R., Lowe, C. N. and Duncanson, P. (2014) Earthworms of an urban cemetery in Preston: General survey and burrowing of Lumbricus terrestris. Zeszyty Naukowe 17, 23-30.
Lowe, C. N. and Butt, K. R. (2014) Cocoon viability and evidence for delayed hatching by the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris in a laboratory-based study. Zeszyty Naukowe 17, 61-67.

2013
Porco, D., Decaëns, T., Deharveng, L., James, S.W., Skarżyńsk, D., Erséus, C., Butt, K.R., Richard, B. and Hebert, P. (2013) 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 15 (4), 899-910.
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 (2013) A review of earthworm impact on soil function and ecosystem services. European Journal of Soil Science 64, 161-182.
Rajapaksha, N. S. S., Butt, K. R., Vanguelova, E. and Moffat, A. J. (2013) Earthworm selection of Short Rotation Forestry leaf litter assessed through preference testing and direct observation. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 67, 12-19.
Rajapaksha, N. S. S., Butt, K. R., Vanguelova, E. and Moffat, A. J. (2013) Effects of Short Rotation Forestry on soil faunal community development. Forest Ecology and Management 309, 96-104.
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.

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 and acted as expert witnesses in court cases where vermi-technology was the focus. 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 Forensic and Applied Sciences
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