Plant Science

Molecular analysis of nematode communities as a soil health indicator

scientist sampling on the beach Crop yield is closely related to soil quality, so the development of swift and reliable indicators of soil health is important for agricultural management, and nematodes are key components of the soil food web. Since the development of molecular fingerprinting techniques for rapid identification of nematode species, analysis of nematode community structure for soil health monitoring has become viable. Scientists from the James Hutton Institute sampled a grid of field plots running from shoreline to forest at Tentsmuir Point, Fife. Nematode abundances were measured and pH, salinity and vegetation composition were recorded. BioSS applied principal coordinates analysis to investigate variation in nematode community structure, and canonical analysis of principal coordinates was used to relate the community structure to environmental variation. No spatial patterns were detected in the community structure, but there were clear associations between nematode functional group and environmental variables. Bacterivore nematodes were associated with high salinity grassy plots; herbivore and carnivore nematodes with mosses, lichens and fireweed; whilst omnivore nematodes were associated with cowberry bushes. These results demonstrate the sensitivity of the nematode community to environmental variation, and, hence, their potential as excellent bio-indicators of soil health for those involved in land monitoring and management. The method has enabled the use of nematodes as an indicator of soil health in studies involving large-scale sampling and has been used to help determine the effect of land management changes on soil health.

modelled percentage of sheep during 2011 Studies of nematode red line. communities have the potential to establish bioindicators of soil health.

Further details from: Adrian Roberts and Graham Horgan

Article date 2015

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