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A strategy in searching for stress tolerance-correlated characteristics in nematodes while accounting for phylogenetic interdependence

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For more content, see Nematologica.

Biological indicators are highly relevant for assessing the condition of a soil as they are integrative; they reflect the overall impact of physical, chemical and biological changes. Indigenous soil organisms are preferable to other test organisms because the diversity and condition of indigenous soil organisms reflect both acute and chronic effects of soil disturbances. Nematodes are ubiquitous, speciose, easily extractable and present in extremely high numbers. Given the ever increasing amount of sequence data, DNA barcode-based community analysis will soon be possible and a next step would be to define objective criteria for the ecological grouping of soil nematodes. Here, we present a framework to ascertain which traits are correlated with a tolerance to stress. For this, a field study on the effects of pH and copper on nematode communities was re-analysed. Changes in abundances of individual genera were correlated with a number of potentially stress tolerance-related characteristics. The generalised least squares (GLS) method was used to account for the phylogenetic dependence of the data. Only the relationship between the ability to enter a survival stage and tolerance to copper at pH 6.1 was found to be significant, but the quantity of missing data probably had a negative impact on the analyses. This study did, however, clearly demonstrate the importance of accounting for the effects of phylogenetic dependence in the data. When the phylogeny was taken into account, we observed an average change in P value of 0.196 (and in some cases as much as 0.6) for the correlations of possible stress-related characteristics and Cu or pH tolerance. This research constitutes a proof-of-principle for a transparent method to relate stress tolerance to (ecological) characteristics. The usefulness of this powerful method should become even clearer when substantially higher numbers of individuals are analysed (as facilitated by using DNA barcodes) and when missing data are filled in.

Affiliations: 1: Agroscope Changins-Waedenswil, Nematologie, Schloss, 8820 Waedenswil, Switzerland;, Email:; 2: Praktijkonderzoek Plant & Omgeving B.V. Sector AGV, Edelhertweg 1, Lelystad, The Netherlands; 3: Evolutionary Biology, Institute of Biology Leiden, Kaiserstraat 63, 2311 GP Leiden, The Netherlands; 4: Laboratory of Nematology, Department of Plant Sciences, Wageningen University, Droevendaalsesteeg 1, 6708 PB Wageningen, The Netherlands; 5: Wageningen UR Glastuinbouw, Violierenweg 1, 2665 MV Bleiswijk, The Netherlands


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