Entomopathogenic Nematodes as a Model System for Advancing the Frontiers of Ecology

Raquel Campos-Herrera, Mary Barbercheck, Casey W. Hoy, S. Patricia Stock

Abstract


Entomopathogenic nematodes (EPNs) in the families Heterorhabditidae and Steinernematidae have a mutualistic– symbiotic association with enteric g-Proteobacteria (Steinernema–Xenorhabdus and Heterorhabditis–Photorhabdus), which confer high virulence against insects. EPNs have been studied intensively because of their role as a natural mortality factor for soil-dwelling arthropods and their potential as biological control agents for belowground insect pests. For many decades, research on EPNs focused on the taxonomy, phylogeny, biogeography, genetics, physiology, biochemistry and ecology, as well as commercial production and application technologies. More recently, EPNs and their bacterial symbionts are being viewed as a model system for advancing research in other disciplines such as soil ecology, symbiosis and evolutionary biology. Integration of existing information, particularly the accumulating information on their biology, into increasingly detailed population models is critical to improving our ability to exploit and manage EPNs as a biological control agent and to understand ecological processes in a changing world. Here, we summarize some recent advances in phylogeny, systematics, biogeography, community ecology and population dynamics models of EPNs, and describe how this research is advancing frontiers in ecology.

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