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.
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 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.
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 led by Newcastle University.
Capturing our Coast is a three year programme funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Dr Jacqui Pocklington, Project Co-ordinator from Newcastle University said: “This is a great way for people to get involved in scientific research which is directly helping conservation of marine species. Without public involvement, it would take years to gather the kind of information we need so every bit of data the public collects is vital.”
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."
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 study starts on October 1 and there are five set periods in which people are asked to collect data. For more information go to: http://www.capturingourcoast.co.uk/
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