Worms aid the spread of nematodes in fields

01/24/2014 11:57:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

earthwormJoseph Berger, Bugwood.orgResearchers have found that earthworms can eat nematodes, and they pass through the gut alive and in tact.Blame the earthworm for aiding and abetting the spread of damaging nematodes.

The latest research by David Bailey, an Auburn University doctoral student working under plant pathologist Kathy Lawrence and entomologist David Held, showed plant parasitic nematodes hitchhike in the guts of worms.

This helps the nematodes spread farther and faster than they could on their own, according to a news release.

“The results we got suggest that nematodes and earthworms have a mutualistic relationship, one where both species benefit,” Bailey said in the release. “As earthworms travel through the soil, they feed on organic matter and roots, and they consume plant-parasitic nematodes in the process. The nematodes pass through the earthworm’s gut system, uninjured, and are transported to new locations, emerging in the castings alive and active.”

The Auburn finding contracts results from a 2001 study that prompted scientists to surmise that nematodes could not survive passage through earthworms' digestive tracts.

Additional research is needed to determine whether live nematodes that earthworms cast on the surface or in the soil will infect plant seedlings.

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