Successful funding for Giant Gippsland Earthworm research and protection

In June 2024, the Gippsland Threatened Species Action Group and Bass Coast Landcare Network were awarded major funding for a new project targeting the Giant Gippsland Earthworm (Megascolides australis) (GGE).

Funded through the Australian Government’s Saving Native Species Program, the ‘Threat Mitigation and Soil Hydrology for the Giant Gippsland Earthworm’ project is an exciting step forward in further understanding the species and its habitat requirements.

"I see this exciting and somewhat novel pilot project as the 'Canary in the Coal mine' that will not only provide vital information on the hydrology of GGE habitat but will also determine and inform future management and stewardship of the land in times of ongoing climate change," Dave Sutton, Chair of GTSAG Chair

The 18-month project is a true collaboration with contributing organisations including the South Gippsland Landcare Network, Oates Environmental Consulting, Drift Media, Invert-Eco Terrestrial Invertebrate Consulting and Water Technology.

The project aims to improve the conservation status of the Giant Gippsland Earthworm through developing an increased knowledge of habitat requirements and communicating to landowners and land managers who have colonies on their properties and farms.

Dr Beverley Van Praagh (BSc. PhD.) from Invert-Eco Terrestrial Invertebrate Consulting has been studying the Giant Gippsland Earthworm for the past 30 years and believes increasing our knowledge of the worm’s habitat requirements is essential for the species survival.

"The more information we collect about these amazing creatures, the better equipped we will be to manage and protect their habitat and ensure they survive into the future,” Dr Beverley Van Praagh.

A pilot study of GGE habitat hydrology profile will be led by Dr Michael Aberton from Water Technology. At a targeted site in South Gippsland, a series of monitoring probes have been installed to capture real time data for soil moisture, temperature and oxygen levels in thriving GGE colonies in comparison to nearby areas not supporting this species. The hydrological conditions in the top 800mm of the soil column will be monitored over the 18-month life of this project to uncover potential impacts of seasonal weather and climate change on GGE habitat.

“We are excited by the prospects of measuring these soil parameters in comparative habitats. We want to determine any correlation between percentage soil moisture, soil temperature fluctuation and soil oxygen levels and whether this influences the presence of the GGE within the soil profile,” say Dr Aberton.

Other project activities include habitat site assessment and mapping of four new colony sites, habitat protection works, the establishment of 12 additional long-term monitoring sites and the development of a ‘Managing earthworms in pastures under regenerative agriculture’ case study that will be integrated into a web based interactive resource to take visitors through a virtual guided tour of the earthworms habitat.

This project received grant funding from the Australian Government’s Saving Native Species Program.