Nematode Indicators of Organic Enrichment

H. Ferris, A.M.T. Bongers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

164 Citations (Scopus)


The organisms of the soil food web, dependent on resources from plants or on amendment from other sources, respond characteristically to enrichment of their environment by organic matter. Primary consumers of the incoming substrate, including bacteria, fungi, plant-feeding nematodes, annelids, and some microarthropods, are entry-level indicators of enrichment. However, the quantification of abundance and biomass of this diverse group, as an indicator of resource status, requires a plethora of extraction and assessment techniques. Soluble organic compounds are absorbed by bacteria and fungi, while fungi also degrade more recalcitrant sources. These organisms are potential indicators of the nature of incoming substrate, but current methods of biomass determination do not reliably indicate their community composition. Guilds of nematodes that feed on bacteria (e.g., Rhabditidae, Panagrolaimidae) and fungi (e.g., Aphelenchidae, Aphelenchoididae) are responsive to changes in abundance of their food. Through direct herbivory, plant-feeding nematodes (e.g., many species of Tylenchina) also contribute to food web resources. Thus, analysis of the nematode community of a single sample provides indication of carbon flow through an important herbivore channel and through channels mediated by bacteria and fungi. Some nematode guilds are more responsive than others to resource enrichment. Generally, those bacterivores with short life-cycles and high reproductive potential (e.g., Rhabditidae) most closely mirror the bloom of bacteria or respond most rapidly to active plant growth. The feeding habits of some groups remain unclear. For example, nematodes of the Tylenchidae may constitute 30% or more of the individuals in a soil sample; further study is necessary to determine which resource channels they portray and the appropriate level of taxonomic resolution for this group. A graphic representation of the relative biomass of bacterivorous, fungivorous, and herbivorous nematodes provides a useful tool for assessing the importance of the bacterial, fungal, and plant resource channels in an extant food web
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-12
JournalJournal of Nematology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • bacterial-feeding nematodes
  • population energetics
  • atmospheric co2
  • food-web
  • species composition
  • field conditions
  • faunal analysis
  • maturity index
  • spatial scales
  • soil

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