Lugworms' love lives under the spotlight as part of Spermwatch
Published 24/09/2016 | 09:36
The public are being asked to keep an eye on the love lives of lugworms as part of a research project called Spermwatch.
Scientists are baffled about the process which leads the lugworm, which spends most of its life buried deep in the sand on beaches, to begin its mating process.
In order to breed, the male lugworm releases 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 their eggs.
Dr Katrin Bohn, of the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Portsmouth, explained that very specific environmental conditions are needed to trigger the release of sperm and the egg at the same time, and the public's help is needed to help fill in the "knowledge gaps" in the process.
She said: "Lugworms are fascinating.
"The entire population at a specific location reproduces 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."
Dr Gordon Watson, principal lecturer at the Institute of Marine Sciences, said: "This is a great way for people to get involved in scientific research. It would be virtually impossible to collect these data without public involvement, so every bit of data the public collects is vital."
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.
Spermwatch is part of a wider conservation project called Capturing our Coast, a Heritage Lottery Fund partnership between the universities of Portsmouth, Newcastle, Bangor and Hull, the Marine Conservation Society, the Earthwatch Institute, the Marine Biological Association and the Scottish Association of Marine Science.
Instruction booklets can be downloaded at: http://www.capturingourcoast.co.uk/spermwatch.