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"Worms man" Dr. Jeroen Onrust wins Science Prize Campus Fryslân 2019

17 May 2019

Biologist Jeroen Onrust may call himself the winner of the Science Prize Campus Fryslân 2019. For his PhD research at the University of Groningen/Campus Fryslân, Onrust investigated the effect of earthworms on the fertility of agricultural land and their availability for meadow birds. The jury praises his innovative research, the social relevance for the province of Fryslân, the national and international appeal and the extent to which the research is much talked-about.

Dr. Jeroen Onrust has achieved a lot as a researcher

Chair of the jury prof. Caspar van den Berg about the winner: “Dr. Jeroen Onrust is a scientist who has carried out innovative research that has added important scientific knowledge, but also to a wider audience, people who are somewhat further away from scientific research and education, arose curiosity and appeal to the imagination. A researcher who succeeds in this has achieved a lot. The research is much talked-about, as evidenced by the reactions of peers and the many invitations to discuss the subject. It is also methodically innovative and surprising, it has yielded results that are important for the region, but also outside it, have expressiveness at home and abroad and encourage further research. The jury was therefore impressed by how this research gives substance to Campus Fryslân's motto: Global Challenges, Local Solutions. Relevant issues, with a local solution, which can then have an impact far beyond the national borders. "

Counting red earthworms lying on a cart

Jeroen Onrust on the cart. Photographera: Lars Soerink
Jeroen Onrust on the cart. Photographera: Lars Soerink

Onrust showed in his research that the red detrivore earthworm (which eats dead organic material) brings coarse-organic material into the soil by operating both above and below ground. This makes it not only crucial for soil fertility, but also for the food supply of meadow birds. Red worms, however, are becoming increasingly rare, since they thrive on raw manure and not on chemical fertilizer that is used primarily in intensive grassland management. In areas where intensive farming is practiced, it appears that the gray geophage or earth-eating worm is increasingly dominant. This worm lives on soil particles and fine organic matter and does not show itself above ground.

For his research, Jeroen developed a new observation method that evokes memories of 19th-century inventions: a special cart. By using a lamp on his head, Onrust counted the earthworm activity on the Frisian meadow surface while lying. Based on the idea that earthworms and birds are thinking animals, he also developed innovative behavioral experiments, which enabled him to determine, for example, that birds could use their hearing to find earthworms. Thus, Onrust contributed to a research field that had not been developed since the days of Darwin (who wrote a book about earthworms).

The Science Prize consists of a cash prize of 10,000 euros of which 8,000 can be spent on new research and 2.000 may be spent at the researchers own discretion. With the Science Prize, RUG / Campus Fryslân wants to stimulate and reward scientific research talent. The Municipality of Leeuwarden is funding the Science Prize.

Last modified:11 May 2020 4.21 p.m.
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