The secret life of Lugworms – ‘citizen scientists’ needed to help shed light on the sex-life of this important coastal species
Love is in the air along the UK’s coastlines this autumn and the Marine Conservation Society is asking the public to keep an eye out for signs of passion in the lugworm population.
The lugworm – Arenicola marina – is a vital source of food for wader birds and fish, and the species plays an important role in fisheries as a source of bait.
But spending their lives burrowed deep in the sediment, opportunities to find the perfect mate is limited. Instead, the males release sperm which collects in ‘puddles’ on the surface of the sand. When the tide comes in, the sperm is washed down into the burrows of the females and fertilises their eggs.
Very specific environmental conditions are needed to trigger the release of the sperm and the egg at the same time and very little is known about the process.
Now scientists are calling on members of the public to join the project as ‘citizen scientists’ and help to fill in the knowledge gaps.
Dubbed ‘Spermwatch’, the project is part of a wider conservation project called Capturing our Coast, a partnership between universities, conservation and research organisations including Newcastle University, Marine Conservation Society and Earthwatch. Capturing our Coast is a three year programme funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Leonie Richardson, Capturing our Coast Project Officer for the Marine Conservation Society, says “Why not combine a gentle stroll on the beach this autumn with keeping an eye out for lugworm sperm? Each survey submitted provides valuable information to help piece together the puzzle of when these elusive marine worms breed and what environmental factors might trigger them to spawn. If you fancy being involved in some intriguing scientific research, join Spermwatch and help realise the power of citizen science!”
Katrin Bohn, Capturing Our Coast Project Officer, Portsmouth University, Institute of Marine Sciences, said: “Lugworms are fascinating. The entire population at a particular location will appear to reproduce for just a few days every year and only when certain environmental conditions are ideal.
“We want to know what those conditions are and also understand how climate change, for example, will affect that. By going out for a walk on any beach across the UK, members of the public can help us in answering those questions.”
The study starts on October 1 and there are five set periods in which people are asked to collect data. It should take about 45 minutes and is ideal to form part of a beach walk – all you have to do is download an instruction book from http://www.capturingourcoast.co.uk and get recording.
A launch event will take place on Saturday 1st October 2016, 12:00 – 15:00 at Dunraven Bay, Southerndown, in collaboration with the Vale of Glamorgan Council staff at the Glamorgan Heritage Coast. Meet on the beach just down the slipway from the lower car park.