Earthworm diversity and dynamics: the neglected component of soil sustainability

Supervisor

Dr Penelope Watt, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

Co-supervisor

Professor Jonathan Leake, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences


Grantham Scholar

Joseph Llanos

The increasing pressure on farms to produce more and more food for our growing population is leading to intensive farming practises being used to maximise crop yields. These practises can be harmful to the wider environment and put the long-term sustainability of our soils at risk. The UN have recognised soil health declines as a serious threat to food production worldwide, and urgent research is needed to look into alternative ways to increase crop yields without damaging the soil.

The importance of earthworms in maintaining the health of our soils was first highlighted by Charles Darwin, who described them as one of the most important animals on earth. Since Darwin’s work, other researchers have shown that the presence of earthworms can significantly improve the quality of the soil and provide many benefits, including increased crop yields, biodiversity and carbon sequestration. Earthworms could therefore play a key role in curbing worldwide soil declines and increasing food security.

Despite the importance of these animals, information on their diversity, distribution, ecology and behaviour is lacking. If the true potential of earthworms is to be realised, these gaps in our understanding need to be addressed. This project will attempt to do just that, using a combination of innovative laboratory and field experiments, with the goal of creating viable alternative soil-management strategies with earthworms at the core.