Earthworm Research Group (ERG)
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 thirty 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.
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 Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain and the USA.
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 numerous “Bioblitz” events, creation of identification keys 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.”
Please contact us if you wish to view the research in full.
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.
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.
Involvement in public awareness activities relating to rapid biodiversity assessment in Britain e.g. Lancashire Bioblitz (June 2011)
Recent television and radio coverage
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.
A French production “Superworm” which featured numerous aspects of the ERG and featured both Kevin Butt and Chris Lowe.
Isle of Rum, Inner Hebrides
A new research project on Rum is investigating abandoned “Lazybeds”. This traditional agriculture uses seaweed and dung as fertiliser and may be considered as a sustainable system. The impact of the work was assessed in July 2018 when local residents/Scottish Natural Heritage were interviewed.
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
Butt, K. R. and Nuutinen, V. (2021) Earthworms in past and present agricultural landscapes of Hebridean Scotland. European Journal of Soil Biology,
Butt, K. R. and Quigg, S. M. (2021) Earthworm community development in soils of a reclaimed steelworks. Pedosphere, 31 (3), 384-390.
Mazur-Pączka, A., Pączka, G., Kostecka, J., Butt, K.R., Jaromin, M., Garczyńska, M. and Podolak, A. (2021) Community structure of Lumbricidae in beech woodland of the Bieszczady National Park, South eastern Poland. Pedosphere, 31 (3), 391-397.
Butt, K. R., Lang, F., Ehrmann, O., Kobel-Lamparski, A., Lamparski, F. and Nuutinen, V. (2021) Field and laboratory investigations of Lumbricus badensis ecology and behaviour. Pedosphere 31 (3), 471-474.
Euteneuer, P., Wagentristl, H., Steinkellner, S., Fuchs, M., Zaller, J. G., Piepho, H-P. and Butt, K.R. (2020) Contrasting effects of cover crops on earthworms: Results from field monitoring and laboratory experiments on growth, reproduction and food choice. European Journal of Soil Biology 100, 103225. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejsobi.2020.103225
Ashwood F, Vanguelova EI, Benham S and Butt KR (2020) Looking for Earthworms in Deadwood. Front. Young Minds 8:547465. doi: 10.3389/frym.2020. 547465
Butt and Quigg (2020) Earthworms as a final chapter in the narrative of a steelworks. The Glasgow Naturalist (online 2020) Volume 27, Part 2 https://doi.org/10.37208/tgn27208
Garczyńska, M. Kostecka, J., Pączka, G. Hajduk, E. Mazur-Pączka, A. and Butt, K. R. (2020) Properties of Vermicomposts derived from Cameroon sheep dung. Applied Sciences 10, 5048; doi:10.3390/app10155048
Forbes, V E; Agatz, A; Ashauer, R; Butt, K R; Capowiez, Y; Duquesne, S; Ernst, G; Focks, A; Gergs, A; Hodson, M; Holmstrup, M; Johnston, A; Meli, M; Nickisch, D; Pieper, S; Rakel, K; Reed, M; Römbke, J; Schäfer, R B.; Thorbek, P; Spurgeon, D; van den Berg, F.; Van Gestel, K; Zorn, M; Roeben, V (2020) Mechanistic effect modeling of earthworms in the context of pesticide risk assessment: Synthesis of the FORESEE Workshop. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management.
Pączka, G.; Mazur-Pączka, A.; Garczyńska, M.; Kostecka, J.; Butt, K.R. (2020) Effects of Vermireactor Modifications on the Welfare of Earthworms Eisenia fetida (Sav.) and Properties of Vermicomposts. Agriculture, 10, 481.
Butt, K. R., Méline, C. and Pérès, G. (2020) Marine macroalgae as food for earthworms: Growth and selection experiments across ecotypes. Environmental Science and Pollution Research 27, 33493-33499. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-020-07666-y
Garczyńska, M., Pączka, G., Podolak, A., Mazur-Pączka, A., Szura, R., Butt. K. R. and Kostecka, J. (2020) Effects of Owinema Biopreparation on Vermicomposting in Earthworm Ecological Boxes. Applied Sciences. Doi: 10.3390/app10020456.
Quigg, S. M., Lowe, C. N., Butt, K. R., Micham, T., Iyengar, A. (2020) A re-examination of the taxonomic status of Prostoma jenningsi - a Freshwater Nemertean. Zootaxa 4722 (2): 175–184.
Ashwood, F., Vanguelova, E. I., Benham, S. and Butt, K. R. (2019) Developing a systematic sampling method for earthworms in and around deadwood. Forest Ecosystems. 6:33 https://doi.org/10.1186/s40663-019-0193-z
Kostecka, J., Butt, K. R., Mazur-Pączka, A., Pączka, G., Garczyńska, M. and Podolak, A. (2019) Field and laboratory studies of the earthworm Eisenia lucens (Waga, 1857). Environmental Science and Pollution Research.
Nuutinen, V. and Butt, K. R. (2019) Earthworm dispersal of plant litter across the surface of agricultural soils. Ecology 100(7), 2019, e02669.
Pączka, G., Mazur-Pączka, A., Garczyńska, M., Podolak, A., Szura, R., Butt, K.R. and Kostecka, J. (2019) Using Earthworms Eisenia fetida (Sav.) for Utilization of Expansive Littoral Plants Biomass. Applied Sciences. Doi: 10.3390/app9173635.
Ashwood, F., Butt, K.R., Doick, K.J. and Vanguelova, E.I. (2018) Effects of composted green waste on soil quality and tree growth on a reclaimed landfill site. European Journal of Soil Biology 87, 46-652.
Bart, S., Amossé, J., Lowe, C.N., Mougin, C., Péry, A.R.R., Pelosi, C. (2018) Aporrectodea caliginosa, a relevant earthworm species for posteriori pesticide risk assessment: Current knowledge and recommendations for culture and experimental design. Environmental Science and Pollution Research. ISSN 0944-1344
Jimenez, J., Filser, J., Barot, S., Berg, M., Briones, M., Butt, K. R. et al. (2018) ES1406 COST Action: Soil fauna: Key to Soil Organic Matter Dynamics and Fertility. How far have we got? In: The EGU General Assembly 2018, 8-13 April 2018, Vienna, Austria.
Nuutinen, V., Butt, K.R., Hyvaluoma, J., Ketoja, E. and Mikola, J. (2017) Soil fauna and structural responses to the settlement of an ecosystem engineer (Lumbricus terrestris) in an arable clay field. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 115, 285-286.
Butt, K. R. and Putwain, P. D. (2017) Earthworm community development in organic matter-amended plots on reclaimed colliery spoil. North West Geography 17 (2), 1-8.
Ashwood, F., Butt, K.R., Doick, K.J. and Vanguelova, E.I. (2017) Investigating tree foliar preference by the earthworms Aporrectodea longa and Allolobophora chlorotica in reclaimed and loam soil. Applied Soil Ecology 110. 109-117.
Butt, K. R., Briones, M. J. I. (2017) Earthworms and mesofauna from an isolated, alkaline chemical waste site in Northwest England. European Journal of Soil Biology 78, 43-49.
Ashwood, F., Butt, K.R., Doick, K.J. and Vanguelova, E.I. (2017) Interactive effects of composted green waste and earthworm activity on tree growth and reclaimed soil quality: a mesocosm experiment. Applied Soil Ecology 119, 226-233.
Brami, C, Glover, A.R., Butt, K.R. and Lowe, C.N. (2017) Avoidance, biomass and survival response of soil dwelling (endogeic) earthworms to OECD artificial soil: Potential implications for earthworm ecotoxicology. Ecotoxicology 26, 576-579.
Furlong, C., Rajapaksha, N.S.S., Butt, K.R. and Gibson, W.T. (2017) Is composting worm availability the main barrier to large-scale adoption of worm-based organic waste processing technologies? Journal of Cleaner Production 164, 1026-1033.
Brami, C, Glover, A.R., Butt, K.R. and Lowe, C.N. (2017) Effects of silver nanoparticle on survival, biomass change and avoidance behaviour of the endogic earthworm Allolobophora chlorotica. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 141, 66-69.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
During January 2020, Kevin Butt visited staff at the University of Rzeszów in SE Poland, to return to the Carpathian Mountains in the area of the Bieszczady National Park. Interest lay in discovering the behaviour of forest dwelling earthworms in winter. One species, Eisenia lucens, can be found in dead wood, above the soil surface during spring to autumn, but one objective was to determine how it survives the freezing conditions of the winter months. Recording temperatures in the soil at successive 10 cm depths, numerous soil pits were dug to 1 m on the slopes of the beech-dominated woodlands. Leaf litter, dead wood and soil was searched for earthworms and samples taken for subsequent laboratory scrutiny. Initial results suggest that adults of this “surface living” earthworm can burrow to depths of at least 70 cm in winter, but they deposit cocoons in dead wood, where these are able to persist even if it freezes. This species therefore has numerous survival strategies to overcome sub-zero winter temperatures. In addition, evidence (cocoons) of an invasive species – to this ecosystem - (Lumbricus terrestris) were found. Further investigations will build upon such discoveries and help to build a clearer understanding of the dynamics of earthworm communities in these forests. From previous work, a paper (Mazur-Pączka et al.) is now accepted for publication and another will be developed from the latest findings.
Mazur-Pączka, A., Pączka, G., Kostecka, J., Butt, K.R., Jaromin, M., Garczyńska, M. and Podolak, A. (Accepted) Community structure of Lumbricidae in beech woodland of the Bieszczady National Park (Carpathian Mountains, SE Poland). Pedosphere.
Dr Kevin Butt and research assistant Siobhan Quigg completed a research project (2018-19) concerning the development of soil fauna at a 35 ha reclaimed steelworks site (Hallside, near Glasgow - Nat. Grid Ref: NS669601) with funds from the British Land Reclamation Society’s Legacy Investment Initiative. During the 1990s the former steelworks was redeveloped by the Scottish Greenbelt Company (SGC), who aimed in the short-term to improve the visual appearance of this former industrial area, with medium to long-term goals (30 years) focused on the removal of contamination and the development of fertile top soil.
A substrate was created from colliery spoil and sewage sludge, earthworms were introduced and Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) trees planted. This flagship site, was largely neglected after nearby land was made available for housing. The research lead was instrumental in earthworm introduction to site and initial follow up. To return and gather detailed information on development of soil and soil faunal communities will provide invaluable long-term data sets. This legacy site still offers much to industry and academic research in terms of monitoring the cost effectiveness and sustainability of reclamation practices.
ERG have a significant presence at ISEE11 in Shanghai
The 11th International Symposium on Earthworm Ecology (ISEE11) was held in Shanghai, China from 24-29th June 2018. It was attended by Drs Kevin Butt and Chris Lowe and also 2 of their PhD students (Pete Bentley and Claire Brami) from the Earthworm Research Group (ERG) at UCLan. Kevin gave a talk on “Marine algae as potential food for earthworms” and collectively the ERG presented six posters on earthworms and ecotoxicology (x2); soil restoration; earthworms in agro-ecosystems; endemic earthworm species. These presentations involved collaborations with a number of external agencies including the French company “Phytorestore”; the British Land Reclamation Society; Natural Resources Institute Finland; Myerscough College and also with Universities from France, Germany and Poland.
ISEE11 was, for the first time, linked with an earthworm taxonomy meeting and an Earthworm Industry Forum to form the 1st International Earthworm Congress. Kevin was a part of the organising Committee and will also act as a guest editor of “Pedosphere” - the Journal to hold the proceedings of ISEE11. Several conference delegates, including Guénola Pérès, Joanna Kostecka, Kevin Hoeffner and Mark Maboeta have previously worked with the ERG in Preston. The 12th ISEE was determined by secret ballot and will be held in 2022 in Rennes, France. Our strong links with Institutes in Rennes mean that the ERG will play a significant role in that meeting too.
ERG Meeting in South East Poland
In early September 2018, staff and PhD students from UCLan’s Earthworm Research Group (ERG) travelled to Poland to meet with a similar group led by Prof Joanna Kostecka from the University of Rzeszow. A mini-conference was held in Ustrzyki Górne, within the Bieszczady National Park. Oral and poster presentations were given on a variety of earthworm-related topics. An excursion into the beech-dominated forest was made and upwards to the alpine meadows. In addition, a dark-sky experience was possible, in one of the best places world-wide to avoid light pollution.
Dr Kevin Butt
Prof Maria Briones, Universidad de Vigo
Departamento de Ecologia y Biologia Animal, Facultad de Biologia
36310 Vigo, SPAIN
Dr Pia Euteneuer
University of Natural Resources and Life Science
Dr Mac Callaham
The Center for Forest Disturbance Science
USDA Forest Service's Southern Research Station
University of Georgia, USA
Dr Elena Vanguelova
Alice Holt Lodge
Surrey GU10 4LH
Dr Frank Ashwood
Alice Holt Lodge
Surrey GU10 4LH
Randal Keynes OBE
The Charles Darwin Trust
PO Box 31651
Prof Joanna Kostecka
Faculty of Agriculture and Biology
University of Rzeszow
Prof Friederike Lang
University of Freiburg, Soil Ecology,
Prof Mark Maboeta
School of Environmental Sciences
Potchefstroom, South Africa 2520.
Dr Andy Moffat
Director, A J Moffat & Associates Ltd
5 Dudley Terrace, Mill Road,
Liss, Hants, GU33 7BE, UK
Dr Visa Nuutinen
LUKE – Natural Resources Institute Finland (Soil Ecosystems)
Dr Guénola Pérès
65 rue de Saint-Brieuc, 35042 RENNES
Dr Olaf Schmidt
UCD School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine
Agriculture and Food Science Centre
University College Dublin
Bellfield Dublin 4
Dr Martin Shipitalo
Soil, Water & Air Research
USDA, 2110 University Boulevard
AMES, IA 50011
Although primarily an academic-focused research group we also work with schools and other non-commercial organisations providing earthworm-related talks, seminars and events.
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”.
2019 - Development of biological indicators to assess the impact of silver nano-particles in agro-ecosystems (PhD with Myerscough College)
2018 – Food Security: Sustainability of Lazybed Re-cultivation (PhD with Myerscough College)
2017 – Reclaiming Landfill to woodland: Enhancing Ecosystem Service Provision using trees, earthworms and Composted Green waste (PhD with Forest Research)
2013 - Soil quality under brownfield land – provision of wider ecosystem services (PhD with Forest Research)
2012 - Collaboration with Lancashire Wildlife Trust on “The Croston Worm” project (funded by Natural England)
2009 - Short Rotation Forestry and earthworms: Impacts and responses (PhD with Forest Research)
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