Project properties

Title What drives changes in earthworm community composition across different soil conditions?
Group Soil Biology
Project type thesis
Credits 24-39
Supervisor(s) Jan Willem van Groenigen, Ingrid Lubbers
Examiner(s) prof.dr. Rachel Creamer
Contact info JanWillem.vanGroenigen@wur.nl Ingrid.Lubbers@wur.nl
Begin date 2020/03/01
End date
Description Earthworms are among the most important soil fauna. They contribute to the quality of soil by improving soil structure, increasing nutrient mineralisation, mixing residues into the soil, and many other process. Thus, having large and diverse earthworm communities in the soil is an important factor for sustainable agricultural systems.
Yet, we know surprisingly little about the controlling factors of earthworm community composition: why are there many earthworms in one field, and only few in the next field? And why does the level of co-occurring species differ so much between soils? These questions are especially important as soil conditions will change due to climate change, and we do not know what dangers such changes will pose to the earthworm community and thereby to the sustainability of agriculture.
We have devised a laboratory setup to study intra- and inter-species competition as a function of soil parameters. In your research, you will install setups with a gradient of soil pH, soil salinity level, and/or soil temperature (all parameters associated with climate change and land management). Using combinations of three earthworm species, you will study the preferences of earthworms for soil conditions, and how those preferences change due to inter- and intra-specific competition. Your results will be used in a larger study on the impact of climate change on earthworm community composition in the soil.
Used skills Apart from the usual required skills (performing a literature review, writing a proposal and a thesis, chemical and biological laboratory analysis, data processing and statistics, presentation) it is especially important for this topic that you are interested in earthworm ecology, and that you are resourceful, precise and independent with respect to labwork. We are looking for a student who is eager to setup and perform his/her own experiment as well as produce high quality data for a potential inclusion into a future scientific article.
Requirements Required courses for MSc thesis Soil Biology