Earthworm diversity and dynamics: the neglected component of soil sustainability

Grantham Scholar Dr Joe Llanos now works for The Wildlife Trusts as a Policy & Information Officer. In this role Joe works to influence policy decisions in the UK to protect biodiversity and limit climate change. At the Grantham Centre Joe researched a new technique that uses eDNA from soil to monitor earthworm populations and soil health.

You can find an easy to understand overview of Joe’s work at the Grantham Centre in this interview with him.

On being a Grantham Scholar

“Being part of the Grantham Centre was the highlight of my PhD experience.

Not only did I benefit from top quality training that I would not have had access to otherwise, but it also gave me the opportunity to link into a brilliant community of people who are all passionate about global sustainability issues. This ‘Grantham network’ helped me to grow both as a sustainability professional and as a person. And the interdisciplinary conversations and collaborations with people from all walks of life gave me a fresh perspective on so many issues.

I have now finished my PhD and moved to the next stage of my sustainability career, but I can honestly say that I still apply many of the lessons I learnt from the Grantham Centre training programme in my day-to-day work. The network of people I was able to engage with has also been a huge help going forward, and I know that these connections will continue to benefit all Grantham Scholars (and, hopefully, our sustainability work) in the years ahead.”

The project

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.

Joe Llanos’ outreach

Joe writes blogs for the Wildlife Trusts where he now works. Recently he wrote one about avian flu, and what can the government can do to help prevent its spread. Avian flu – the latest symptom of our ailing ecosystems.

In 2020, Joe took a fellowship at POST, parliament’s in-house source of analysis of public-policy issues. While at POST Joe wrote a briefing on resilience in the UK food sector. Find out more and a link to the briefing here.

We interviewed Joe to find out more about his work with worms. In the interview Joe reveals some amazing things about worms, like the fact that they can form herds. Plus Joe explains how his research could benefit soil health. Read: Meet the earthworm CSI & discover how worm DNA can help soil health.

In May 2018 Joe and other Scholars hosted an event for Chevening Scholars. Chevening: supporting the development of the world’s future decision makers.

Social media

You can find Joe on Twitter.