The secret love life of lugworms
Love is in the air along our coastlines this autumn and Earthwatch is asking the public to keep an eye out for signs of passion in the lugworm population with Spermwatch.
Lugworm cast. Credit: Ruth Dunn
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 are 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 her 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. "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." explains Katrin Bohn, Capturing Our Coast Project Officer, Portsmouth University, Institute of Marine Sciences, "“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."
Now scientists are calling on members of the public to join the project as ‘citizen scientists’ and help to fill in the knowledge gaps with a unique project - Spermwatch.
Spermwatch is part of the UK-wide marine conservation project called Capturing our Coast, Capturing our Coast collects information about marine species on the UK coasts all year round.
Megan Evans, Earthwatch Institute said: “Projects such as Capturing our Coast are important, because responsibility for the marine environment belongs to us all, and everyone should have an opportunity to contribute.”
The Spermwatch 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 www.capturingourcoast.co.uk/spermwatch and get recording.
Capturing our Coast is a partnership between Newcastle University, University of Hull, University of Portsmouth, The Marine Biological Association, Marine Conservation Society, Bangor University, SAMS, Earthwatch, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Durham Heritage Coast, Cefas, Thanet Coast Project, Natural History Museum, North West Coastal Forum.