3. Nematodes

Nematodes

© George L. Barron

7 wonders of the soil

There are probably at least a million different species of nematode living everywhere from the surface of the soil to the roots of plants. These microscopic worms eat everything from fungi to bacteria to insects, larvae and plants, and live either independently or as parasites on host insects, plants and animals. They can consume 6.5 times their own weight daily, and along with earthworms are important in recycling organic matter into fertile soil and helping to distribute nutrients: both bacterial- and fungal-feeding nematodes release large amounts of nitrogen into the soil. Not all nematodes are welcome – the one that causes trichonosis in pigs can make us ill too, and plant-feeding nematodes can be devastating to crops. However, some insect-eating species are valued as natural pesticides, and nematodes in turn provide food for small insects and even for fungi. The fungus Arthrobotrys anchonia, for example, forms a constricting ring of cells that traps a nematode as it passes through!

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