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  • 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.


    Rights: AgResearch


    AgResearch is a Crown research institute. One of its roles is to enhance and improve pastoral agricultural practices. AgResearch scientists are promoting the benefits of earthworms in pasture soils. Earthworms can increase soil fertility and soil structure.

    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

    Rights: Ross Gray

    Earthworm research

    AgResearch scientist Dr Nicole Schon sorting earthworms by hand. This is one method Nicole uses to indentify and quantify earthworm species at a given location.

    Some suggested science concepts:

    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:

    Students can:

    • 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

    About The Great Kiwi Earthworm Survey

    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.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato


    Count the number of earthworms in the cube of soil.

    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.

    Related content

    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.

    In this video ākonga who’ve participated in this project provide a brief explanation about citizen science projects, how they benefit the science community and why they like being involved.

    Here are some planning tips for when you intend to use a citizen science project with your students.

    Useful links

    Check out earthworm survey observations and images on iNaturalistNZ.

    Read about the vital role of earthworms in New Zealand soils in this Stuff article.

      Published 15 July 2020, Updated 16 May 2023 Referencing Hub articles
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