AMES, Iowa – The common nightcrawler, Lumbricus terrestris, is a deep-burrowing worm species that is found in many Iowa crop fields. The presence of nightcrawlers can serve as one indicator of the overall soil health in Iowa’s agricultural ecosystems. Ann Staudt, assistant manager of the Iowa Learning Farms, will discuss ILF’s recent research that analyzes the relationship between earthworm populations, cover crops and overall soil health during the monthly webinar on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 1 p.m. The webinar is free, and all that is needed to participate is a computer with internet access.
How does one monitor earthworm populations? “The earthworm feeds on decaying plant residue at the soil surface at night or after a rain," Staudt explained. "The earthworms then pull that plant material back into their tunnel, leaving a well-defined clumpy mound, or midden, on the soil surface. Since earthworms typically live in just one single tunnel or burrow, the number of middens on the soil surface of a field provides a good indication of earthworm populations in a field."
ILF is monitoring earthworm populations on six on-farm demonstration sites statewide. Project sites are located in long-term no-till strips with and without cereal rye cover crop treatments. While soil health can be difficult to quantify, earthworms are a very tangible early indicator of soil health, long recognized by farmers and gardeners as being beneficial organisms in the soil ecosystem. Staudt hopes that this research will teach us more about the connections between earthworm populations and soil health in a cover crop versus no cover system, and that earthworms can be a simple, straightforward indicator of soil health.
Staudt is an environmental engineer who actively blends scientific knowledge and creative expression through her work and teaching. Staudt works with multiple Iowa State University Extension and Outreach programs, serving as assistant manager of ILF and science director of the award-winning Water Rocks! youth water education program. Staudt holds a master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Notre Dame and bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Iowa State University.
The ILF webinars are held on the third Wednesday of each month at 1 p.m. To log in, go to: https://connect.extension.iastate.edu/ilf/ at 1 p.m. on the afternoon of the webinar and log in through the “guest” option. Webinar participants can ask questions during the presentation using the chat function. The webinar will be recorded and archived on the ILF website for viewing at any time at: https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/webinars.
ILF has hosted a webinar every month since January 2011. To date, there are 70 webinars to view on a wide range of topics including soil health, soil erosion, water quality and farmer perspectives.