- What is a nematode?
- Why use nematodes?
- How do I use nematodes?
- What are the benefits of nematodes?
- How do I know they work?
What is a nematode?
Nematodes, or more specifically insect killing (entomopathogenic) nematodes (EPNs), can be found naturally in the environment as parasites of insect larvae. Nematodes from two genera, Steinernema and Heterorhabditis, are used globally to control major insect pests within a range of different crop production systems. They are macrobial products, or invertebrate biocontrol agents.
Why use nematodes?
Many insecticides face bans in agriculture because of their harmful effects on users and the environment. Nematodes can provide an effective alternative for controlling these insect pests. Pest management benefits greatly from their particular usefulness in targeting difficult-to-manage pests like white grub and cutworm larvae found in the soil.
How do I use nematodes?
In field, covered and orchard crops, turf, on solid substrates (soil, compost etc) or aerially (foliage or stems)
There are many commercial examples of the use of EPNs: in field crops to control soil-dwelling insect larvae of cutworms (Agrotis spp.), in glasshouse crops to control larvae of fungus gnats (Bradysia spp.), in fruit orchards to control codling moth (Cydia pomonella) and white grubs (including Japanese Beetle, Popillia japonica) of turf grass.
What are the benefits of nematodes?
They can actively search for the target pest, depending on the species
For example, Steinernema carpocapsae utilizes an “ambush” strategy, waiting near the soil surface for target hosts, whilst Heterorhabditis bacteriophora has a “cruiser” strategy, seeking out its target.
- Read our ‘How can biocontrol agents seek out their pests‘ blog to learn more about this benefit.
Specific and narrow host ranges
The EPNs are parasites of insects and the range of targets can vary with S. feltiae, for example, attacking Coleoptera, Diptera, Lepidoptera and Hymenoptera, whilst in contrast H. bacteriophthora only attacks Coleoptera, mainly Scarabidae. To see how the nematodes interact in a living system, see this video on biocontrol with nematodes
Unlikely to promote resistance within host insects
The EPNs themselves will not kill a host insect; this requires the EPNs symbiotic bacteria. When an EPN enters a host insect larva they release their symbiotic bacteria which kill the insect host. The bacterial enzymes then digest the larva and the EPNs feed on the products. To see an animated explanation of the mode of action, go to this video on Mode of Action of Koppert Nematodes
- Learn more about biocontrol and pest resistance in our ‘How can biocontrol slow pest resistance‘ blog.
Considered safe by national authorities, for the environment, users and consumers
Studies have demonstrated that EPNs and their associated symbiotic bacteria do not cause harmful effects to humans or other vertebrates. Researchers consider any short-lived non-target effects on field populations of invertebrates.
Will not feed on plant material
The EPNs are not related to plant parasitic nematodes and do not utilize plant material as a food source.
Do not produce any residue in crops
Residue from chemical pesticides can be extremely damaging, especially to the environment and surrounding wildlife. As nematodes are natural, there
Reduce the need for chemical pesticides and can be used in organic farming
Using nematodes as a form of pest or disease control means there may be less need for a conventional chemical pesticide. Using natural products on crops enables farmers to sell on the organic market, yielding higher profits.
Can be applied using existing spray or irrigation systems
When using conventional spray equipment or overhead irrigation, make sure to remove filters and sieves, and ensure the nozzles are of at least 0.5mm diameter, and use low pressure to prevent damaging the EPNs.
Can be used with other biological agents or integrated pest management (IPM) components
EPNs can be applied together with other biologicals such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) or conventional insecticides such as Imidacloprid to manage insect pests, often with synergistic effects or the effective use of lower doses of insecticides.
How do I know they work?
You can see a successful example of the use of beneficial nematodes in the UK is the control of vine weevil (Otiorynchus sulcatus) in strawberries
Or, take a look at this novel Claymation presentation of the entomopathogenic nematodes.
Products based on the nematodes Steinernema spp. and Heterorhabditis spp. can be found for insect pests on www.bioprotectionportal.com.