Earthworms are useful indicators of soil health. This project aims to capture information on earthworm abundance and species distribution throughout New Zealand. Information provided will be used by researchers to improve their understanding of earthworms.
The survey runs from June to September. The location can be a farm, backyard or anywhere you’ve got permission to dig a hole. If you are exploring a farm setting, you can survey multiple paddocks to get a representative sample over the farm.
Reach: Regional, national
Nature of science focus: Online citizen science (OCS) projects can be used to develop any of the Nature of Science (NoS) substrands. Identify aspects of NoS that your students need to get better at or understand more fully and then frame your unit to be very clear about these things when you do them.
Science capability focus: Gather and interpret data, Interpret representations, Engage with science
Science focus: ecology – species identification, species distribution and habitat
Some suggested science concepts:
- New Zealand has endemic and introduced earthworm species.
- Adaptations – earthworms can be identified by their external features.
- Ecological niche – earthworm species are adapted to live in their particular soil habitat.
- Earthworms provide ecosystem services.
Many concepts could be learned – focusing on a few can often be more powerful. Develop your learning outcomes and success criteria from these concepts as well as the Nature of Science strand and the science capabilities.
Some examples of learning outcomes:
- accurately gather and log data
- identify earthworms by their external features
- gain experience with using an identification key
- explore soil quality indicators
- consider and discuss the roles and values of introduced species to New Zealand ecosystems.
It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organised creatures.Charles Darwin
The Great Kiwi Earthworm Survey is a national project that will help scientists improve their knowledge of how earthworm abundance and diversity changes across the New Zealand landscape. Pasture earthworms were accidental arrivals, so they still have a patchy distribution. Introduced earthworms provide a number of ecosystem services – recycling organic matter, increasing nutrient availability, improving soil structure and increasing pastoral productivity.
The survey provides an identification key for identifying common pasture earthworms. The photos and descriptions of the physical characteristics will enable students to develop the science capabilities ‘Interpret representations’ and ‘Gather and interpret data’.
Participants are able to submit species data and sample photos via the survey’s website.
The Hub has an extensive range of resources featuring earthworms. Some of the resources are curated in the introductory article Investigating earthworms. Explore other resources curated under the earthworms topic – use the filters to sort the resources by type and level.
While digging for earthworms, consider doing a visual soil assessment (VSA). The VSA uses the same equipment, follows similar protocols and includes an earthworm count.
Here are some planning tips for when you intend to use a citizen science project with your students.