Nematode-based indices in soil ecology: Application, utility, and future directions

Preez, Gerhard Du; Daneel, Mieke; Goede, R.G.M. de; Toit, Marie Joey Du; Ferris, Howard; Fourie, Hendrika; Geisen, S.A.; Kakouli-Duarte, Thomais; Korthals, G.W.; Sanchez-Moreno, Sara; Schmidt, Jan Henrik


The health and functioning of soil ecosystems are the foundation of sustainable food production and land management. Of key importance in achieving sustainability, is the frequent measurement of soil health, and indices based on the community structure of nematodes are amongst the most widely used toolsets by soil ecologists. Thirty years after the development of the Maturity Index, we aimed to evaluate the application, utility, and future directions of nematode-based indices (NBIs). This review focused on NBIs that are calculated using the coloniser-persister classification of nematodes. Data from 672 empirical studies in terrestrial environments revealed that the NBIs presented a dissimilar usage trend. The Channel Index and Metabolic Footprints showed the strongest increase in application rates over time, thus indicating a greater interest in studying decomposition pathways and ecosystem functioning, respectively. Furthermore, nematode-based indices were mostly applied in agricultural systems associated with herbaceous crops and in studies investigating, for example, soil nutrient enrichment following manure and/or inorganic fertilizer application. We further provide a framework for selecting a focus-orientated subset of NBIs for testing hypotheses based on the underlying ecological mechanisms. Also, we highlight important considerations, including the unexpected behaviour of some nematode taxa, in the interpretation of NBIs. The improvement of NBIs relies on advancing our understanding of the autecology of nematodes. Finally, we deliver insight into the further development of NBIs considering recent methodological advancements. We highlight that NBIs have been and might become increasingly important in providing valuable information on soil ecosystem health and functioning, especially considering the urgent need for more sustainable land use.