1. Despite nematodes being the most abundant animals on earth, very few animal ecologists study them, probably because of the difficulties of identifying them to species by morphological methods.
2. A group of nematodes that are important both ecologically and economically is the entomopathogenic nematodes, which play a key role in regulating soil food webs and are sold throughout the world as biological insecticides, yet for which very little is known of their population ecology.
3. A novel detection and quantification method was developed for soil nematodes using real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and the technique was used to estimate numbers of two closely related species of entomopathogenic nematodes, Steinernema kraussei and S. affine in 50 soil samples from 10 sites in Scotland representing two distinct habitats (woodland and grassland).
4. There was a high degree of correlation between our molecular and traditional morphological estimates of population size and our data clearly showed that Steinernema affine occurred only in grassland areas, whereas S. kraussei was found in grassland and woodland samples to a similar degree.
5. Real-time PCR offers a rapid and accurate method of detecting individual nematode species from soil samples without the need for a specialist taxonomist, and has much potential for use in studies of nematode population ecology.
- entomopathogenic nematodes
- habitat preference
- real-time PCR
- multiple sequence alignment
- insect hosts