Understanding nematodes to address climate change

Understanding nematodes to address climate change
BYU biology professor Byron Adams travels annually to Antarctica and the Arctic north to carry out research. Credit: BYU

Fun fact: The microscopic worms BYU professor Byron Adams studies are not only the most abundant animal species on earth, they also make up four-fifths of animal life on this planet. That's right, four out of every five animals on earth are nematode worms.

A new study of soil nematodes co-authored by Adams reveals that there are 57 billion of them for every single living human being—much greater than previously estimated. They also have a total biomass of about 300 million tons, approximately 80 percent of the combined weight of Earth's .

The study, co-authored by Adams and published Wednesday in Nature, provides conclusive evidence that the majority of these tiny live somewhere experts did not expect: high latitude arctic and sub-arctic soils (i.e. tundra, boreal and temperate forests, and grasslands).

"Until recently, life beneath our feet has pretty much been terra incognita" says Adams. "Since we didn't know much about life in the soil, most scientists just assumed that patterns of abundance below ground would match what we see above ground. We figured the tropics must be where it's at. Turns out, that's not true at all. The reason this paper is kind of a big deal is that we show just the opposite is true."

Knowing where these tiny worms live matters because nematodes play a critical role in the cycling of carbon and nutrients and heavily influence CO2 emissions. An important finding of the paper is that abundance is strongly correlated with soil carbon (more carbon = more worms). Understanding the little organisms at a global level is critical if humans are going to understand and address climate change.

Understanding nematodes to address climate change
Microscopic soil nematodes in action. Credit: Brigham Young University

For the study, researchers took 6,759 soil samples representing every continent, and every environment, from arctic tundra to tropical rainforest. They used microscopes to analyze the density of each type of nematode and generate a representative global dataset. Using the information, they built models which predict nematode populations for each and create the first global high-resolution maps of nematode density.

For the past 17 years Adams, has traveled annually to the ice-free areas of Antarctica to study nematodes, tardigrades (water bears) and other microscopic creatures. His research program studies the roles these animals play in fundamental ecosystem processes as well as how they survive in extremely cold and dry environments.


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More information: Johan van den Hoogen et al. Soil nematode abundance and functional group composition at a global scale, Nature (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1418-6
Journal information: Nature

Citation: Understanding nematodes to address climate change (2019, July 26) retrieved 23 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-07-nematodes-climate.html
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Jul 26, 2019
Are those things edible? Can they be raised?

Jul 27, 2019
Understanding nematodes to address climate change


There is nothing to address. The climate has been both warmer and colder and both within historical times.

Jul 28, 2019
Am thinking that the depletion of ground water in the west may be very harmful to these worms, with corresponding longer term ecosystem impacts. They certainly do not look to be very tolerant of drought.

Jul 29, 2019
Understanding nematodes to address climate change


There is nothing to address. The climate has been both warmer and colder and both within historical times.

So you disagree that climate is changing even thought you state that it has changed to both colder and warmer?

Jul 29, 2019
Understanding nematodes to address climate change


There is nothing to address. The climate has been both warmer and colder and both within historical times.
Do you believe everything papa baboon tells you ?

There is extensive issues to adress, Human Induced Climate change is destroying the earth as we speak, in the past the were era's of Warming that made human life impossible ! Human's are now adding fuel to the fire to bring those extinction events back ! ! Fossil Fuels needs to STOP ! !

Jul 29, 2019
Understanding nematodes to address climate change


There is nothing to address. The climate has been both warmer and colder and both within historical times.

So you disagree that climate is changing even thought you state that it has changed to both colder and warmer?


Antigoracle baboon really only remembers what he types for roughly 12 seconds after he has typed it, so remembering as far back as minute let alone a day or two is beyond his ability.

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