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Source: Bruce Snyder, 785-532-2430, basnyder@k-state.edu
Web site: http://www.k-state.edu/earthworm
Photo available. Contact media@k-state.edu or 785-532-6415.
News release prepared by: Stephanie Jacques, 785-532-0101, sjacques@k-state.edu

Monday, Jan. 25, 2010

K-STATE OFFERING FREE EDUCATIONAL KITS TO KANSAS MIDDLE SCHOOL, HIGH SCHOOL TEACHERS TO HELP WITH STATEWIDE EARTHWORM RESEARCH PROJECT

MANHATTAN -- Earthworms will soon be wiggling their way into Kansas classrooms to help a Kansas State University biology instructor with a statewide biological research project.

Bruce Snyder, instructor in K-State's Division of Biology, is teaming up with collaborators throughout the state for the project "Earthworms Across Kansas: A Citizen Science Approach to an Invasive Species Survey." The project is funded by a grant from the K-State Center for Engagement and Community Development.

The project calls on assistance from middle school and high school teachers and students across the state to become citizen scientists by collecting earthworms from their local areas as part of a curriculum designed to meet state academic benchmarks.

"The idea behind this project is that teachers will be given a free kit of educational materials and all items necessary for preserving earthworms, including pre-paid postage and shipping materials," Snyder said. "In exchange, we ask them to collect one or more earthworms and return the specimens to us with the collection information, such as location and date collected."

Earthworms are one of the most ubiquitous and commonly encountered soil-dwelling animals, but relatively little is known about the biology and ecology of many earthworm species, Snyder said. They are commonly thought of as good for gardens and agricultural fields, but one-third of earthworm species currently found in the United States are actually exotic and were introduced from other continents. Some of these exotic earthworm species are considered invasive and are capable of causing harm to the ecosystem, he said.

"By recruiting students and teachers to collect earthworms, we will engage them in the issues of invasive species and biodiversity while gaining a valuable set of specimens and distribution data for native and invasive earthworms in Kansas," Snyder said.

Snyder and collaborators will send out letters to all Kansas middle and high school teachers at the end of the spring semester to recruit volunteer classrooms. Teachers who are interested should respond to the letter so the free educational kits can be sent to them prior to the fall 2010 semester.

Results of the project will be posted on a publically accessible Web site, allowing teachers, students and community members to access information on the particular earthworm species that were collected in their area as well as the information collected throughout the state. The Web site also will have a mapping feature that will display the range of the species within the state.

Along with Snyder, project collaborators include Christopher Lavergne, K-State instructor of communications; Greg Zolnerowich, K-State associate professor of entomology; Sam James with the University of Kansas Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute; and Mac Callaham from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, Southern Research Station.

Snyder received a $13,650 Engagement Incentive Grant from K-State's Center for Engagement and Community Development and is seeking additional funding for more kits and to hire and train undergraduate students in processing the returned worms.

More information on how to become involved in the project is available at http://www.k-state.edu/earthworm or by contacting Snyder at basnyder@k-state.edu.