Using data from schools to model variation in soil invertebrates across the UK: The importance of weather, climate, season and habitat

What's Under Your Feet

Author(s): Martay, B. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W.

Published: March 2018

Journal: Pedobiologia Volume: 67

Digital Identifier No. (DOI): 10.1016/j.pedobi.2018.01.002

View journal article

A three-year study, supported by EDF Energy and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), has been able to identify that dry summer weather may be putting some of our favourite bird species at risk as it triggers a significant drop in the availability of earthworms close to the soil surface during the breeding season. The research was undertaken by thousands of schoolchildren in a nationwide science project to understand the effects of climate change on our soils and ecosystems, helping to inspire the next generation of ecologists.

Nearly 15,000 school children from over 500 schools across the UK have been digging up small sections of their playing fields once a term in October, March and June, and counting and identifying the creatures they found living in the top 5cm of the turf. The results show that the invertebrate groups varied based on season and small-scale habitat factors. Earthworms were the most present group (93.1% of total invertebrate biomass) and were strongly associated with soil moisture, and therefore season. Other groups that were monitored included slugs and snails, woodlice, centipedes, spiders, beetles, ants, earwigs, Diptera larvae, beetle larvae and caterpillars, most of which became more common in spring and summer. The results suggest that climate change will not necessarily have large-scale impacts on soil invertebrate populations, but rather affect their availability through time. 
The project shows that large-scale citizen science at schools can be of tremendous value to scientific data collection. As the project continues, we hope to further expand our knowledge on the UK’s soil invertebrate communities with the help of schools across the country and link this knowledge to bird populations.
Staff Author(s)
Publication Topics

Related Publications