Visiting the Earthworm Research Group

Author

Keiron Brown

On Tuesday 26th February 2019 the Earthworm Society of Britain (ESB) visited the Earthworm Research Group (ERG) at the University of Central Lancashire to explore how we can work together on future projects.

Petri dishes containing cocoons of A. caliginosa and A. longa.
Photo 1 © Keiron Derek Brown: Petri dishes containing cocoons of A. caliginosa and A. longa.

I travelled up to Preston with ESB Chair Emma Sherlock and ESB Research Officer Dr Frank Ashwood, where we were hosted by ERG earthworm researchers Dr Kevin Butt and Dr Chris Lowe. 

Our tour of the ERG facilities was an earthworm nerd’s dream. We were shown their earthworm storage facilities, where the ERG store populations of various earthworm species, from cocoons through to adults. Cocoons are stored in petri dishes of water as this allows them to get all of the oxygen they need to stay alive, These are stored at 15 degrees Celsius in order to hatch them. Cocoon viability is one of the various measurements taken to check how healthy earthworms are under different treatments/conditions. 

Lumbricus friendi
Photo 2 © Frank Ashwood: Lumbricus friendi

The highlight for me from the earthworm stores was seeing my first ever live Lumbricus friendi. This species is found in Britain but appears to be very rare. It’s very similar to Lumbricus terrestris (or the Lob Worm) in appearance, but it’s TP (a feature on the saddle used for gripping a mate during mating) is quite different in shape. These large anecic earthworms are found much more commonly in parts of Spain, where this specimen was from.

Choice chamber
Photo 3 © Keiron Derek Brown: Earthworm choice chamber

After our tour we headed to a lecture theatre, where Emma Sherlock gave an audience of researchers and students a talk about her journey as an earthworm taxonomist and the exciting information that is coming out of the data we collect and collate as part of the National Earthworm Recording Scheme. 

Following lunch, we got down to business and Dr Butt went through his huge list of both published and unpublished studies on earthworms, pointing out which would have useful data to add to the National Earthworm Recording Scheme database. We come away with a great deal of material to search through and, as a result, will be able to vastly increase the record holdings in the Earthworm Research Group dataset that we manage on their behalf. This will open up a wealth of earthworm data for the ESB, other researchers and decision makers to use going forward.

Before we left, Dr Butt showed us some of the current research that they are undertaking, including some interesting choice chamber experiments where earthworms were given a choice of 5 food options, and the proportion of each option that is consumed is monitored. 

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Kevin and Frank for organising the trip and building this exciting relationship between two earthworm-focused organisations. I’m excited to see what data and future collaborations come out the get together… Watch this space… 

Keiron Brown is the Recording Officer for the ESB. His role includes delivering training courses, verifying records and supporting recorders to keep the National Earthworm Recording Scheme running.

You can find more about the fantastic work of the Earthworm Research Group via their website: 

https://www.uclan.ac.uk/research/explore/groups/earthworm_research_group.php

ESB meeting ERG
Photo 4 © Frank Ashwood: The Earthworm Society of Britain and the Earthworm Research Group converge.
From left to right: Emma Sherlock, Keiron Brown, Dr Chris Lowe and Dr Kevin Butt.