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Nematode Behavior

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For more content, see Nematology.

In summary, then, just what have we learned from this general review of nematode behavior? In the past, most of our information has been obtained from the economically important plant and animal parasites. On the surface, at least, it would appear that there are areas equally productive on the biology and behavior of marine and freshwater nematodes. Taxonomists and morphologists have described "eyes" but give no evidence as to their function. The amphids, which are intricately developed in this group, would appear to be ideally suited for testing the sensory nature of this organ. They also have numerous papillae which may serve as tactile receptors. In any event, we certainly need more information on this group of nematodes, supposedly less specialized or more primitive than the parasitic forms. Looking into the future research needs and training in nematology, it appears to me that the zoological-physiological area looms as a very important one, particularly from the standpoint of information needed on nematode behavior and the increasing demand for teachers in the zoological sciences. Therefore, zoological students with nematological and biochemical training will be free to devote their research time to the marine and free-living forms, which agriculturists and parasitologists have not been able to do for obvious economic reasons. Furthermore, I hope most of you appreciate how little we really know about the function of the nervous system and its sensory organs. Many of our experiments are oriented at determining the sensory abilities of nematodes but little is being done toward finding out their function and mechanisms, and what role sensory abilities play in the behavior patterns of nematodes. I think there is a strong case for chemical and physical perception in nematodes; but the attractant substances or stimuli need to be isolated and tested to determine the specific receptors. Probably we can say without being teleological, that the essential characteristics of efficient nematode behavior are those which lead to the survival of the animal. Therefore, a full knowledge of the nematode's natural life and its normal ecological relationships are necessary before we can hope to interpret in an intelligent way its behavior under experimental conditions. Further, we need to know the physiological variation in the individuals used in experiments and how this compares with what is found in the natural population. Considering all invertebrates, relatively few whole patterns of behavior have been analyzed in detail, but those that have show clearly how complex is the set of stimuli to which the animal reacts. I think it is safe to say that the natural behavior of nematodes is the result of the interplay of reactions to many stimuli, any one of which might be limiting to behavior as well as stimulating to behavior.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Nematology, University of California, Riverside, U.S.A.


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