Responses of a desert nematode community to changes in water availability

Martijn L. Vandegehuchte, Zachary A. Sylvain, Lara G. Reichmann, Cecilia Milano De Tomasel, Uffe N. Nielsen, Diana H. Wall, Osvaldo Sala

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


The most recent climate models unequivocally predict a strong drying trend for the southwestern USA within the next century. Soil nematodes are a highly important component of desert ecosystem functioning, but rely on water films formovement. However, it is currently poorly understood how different trophic groups of nematodes respond to chronic presses as well as short-lived pulses of altered water availability, especially in arid systems where such changes are expected to have the greatest impact. The aim of this study was to assess the effects of both instantaneous and long-term variation in water availability on desert soil nematode trophic groups.We hypothesized that nematode abundance would respond positively to both short- and long-term increases in moisture. Based on the ecology of the different trophic groups we further made predictions about their relative rates of response. We increased or decreased precipitation from ambient levels in the Chihuahuan Desert for four consecutive years and sampled soil nematodes after two, three and four years. We tested the effects of altered precipitation treatments through time as well as gravimetric soil moisture at the time of sampling on the abundance of the different nematode trophic groups. In contrast to our hypotheses, the abundances of most nematode trophic groups were unaffected by the amount of precipitation, even after four years of altered precipitation. Plant-parasitic nematodes from low moisture soils were the only group that reacted positively to increased precipitation from the third year onwards. Trophic groups responded differently to soil moisture, with bacterivores decreasing with increasing moisture and omnivores showing a positive relationship that diminished over time. We show that in general, these desert nematodes were not limited by precipitation, and were highly resilient to decreases therein. However, when also considering the effects of soil moisture, some more complex patterns and differences among trophic groups emerged.We discuss potential mechanisms explaining these observations and contrast our findings with those from other ecosystems around the world. We conclude that deserts harbor nematode communities that seem more resilient to altered water availability than other ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number44
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015


  • Drought
  • Precipitation
  • Resilience
  • Soil ecology
  • Soil moisture
  • Trophic groups

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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