Contribution of Nematodes to the Structure and Function of the Soil Food Web

Howard Ferris


As carbon and energy flow through the soil food web they are depleted by the metabolic and production functions of organisms. To be sustained, a "long" food web, with a large biomass at higher trophic levels, must receive a high rate of rhizode-position or detrital subsidy, or be top-populated by organisms of slow growth and long life cycle. Disturbed soil food webs tend to be bottom heavy and recalcitrant to restoration due to the slow growth of upper predator populations, physical and chemical constraints of the soil matrix, biological imbalances, and the relatively low mobility and invasion potential of soil organisms. The functional roles of nematodes, determined by their metabolic and behavioral activities, may be categorized as ecosystem services, disservices or effect-neutral. Among the disservices attributable to nematodes are overgrazing, which diminishes services of prey organisms, and plant-damaging herbivory, which reduces carbon fixation and availability to other organisms in the food web. Unfortunately, management to ameliorate potential disservices of certain nematodes results in unintended but long-lasting diminution of the services of others. Beneficial roles of nematodes may be enhanced by environmental stewardship that fosters greater biodiversity and, consequently, complementarity and continuity of their services.


Soil food webs; spatial patterns; functions; services; functional complementarity; functional continuity; feedback transitions

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