Nematode Respiration and Metabolism

Rev. 01/01/2020

Metabolic and respiratory energetics of soil-inhabiting nematodes have been studied for populations of several species (e.g. Bair, 1956; Klekowski et al., 1972, 1974, 1979; Nicholas, 1975; De Cuyper and Vanfleteren, 1982; Schiemer, 1982, 1983).  Data are often based on one or a few individuals and usually at 20°C (e.g. as summarized in Klekowski et al., 1972 for 68 species).

Respiration rate is the O2 consumption per individual h-1 and is usually calculated in nl h-1.  Metabolic rate is the O2 consumption rate per unit body weight, measured in nl µg-1 h-1.

Respiration rate data are available for several nematode species (Klekowski et al., 1972).

Nematode respiration rate per individual decreases with size of individuals according to the power dependence of basal metabolism and body weight observed in many organisms. The relationship is described by

R = a Wb,

where R is the respiration rate, W is the fresh weight of the individual, and a and b are regression parameters such that b is close to 0.75 for nematodes and other invertebrates (Klekowski et al., 1974; Nicholas, 1975; Apple and Korostyshevskiy, 1980; Atkinson, 1980).

Species from a single field site exhibited different thermal optima and temperature-niche breadths for respiratory and metabolic activity.

Respiration rates of adults ranged between 1.25 and 8.80 nl O2 h-1 at 20°C among the species.

Metabolic rates of adults ranged from 1.15 nl O2 µg(f.w.)-1 h-1 for Rhabditis cucumeris to 4.43 nl O2 µg(f.w.)-1 h-1 for Mesorhabditis (Bursilla) labiata at 20°C.

At each temperature, metabolic rates of nematodes of similar size varied with thermal adaptation of the species. Metabolic rates of Cruznema tripartitum and Cephalobus persegnis were more sensitive to temperature change than were those of Acrobeloides bodenheimeri, A. buetschlii and Panagrolaimus detritophagus. Cephalobus persegnis exhibited the greatest total metabolic activity across a range of temperatures, and P. detritophagus the least. Observed differences in thermal adaptation may contribute to the predominance of species in the nematode community at different times during the year or at different depths in the soil (Ferris et al, 1995).

Rate of nematode metabolism and O2 consumption are decreased by starvation as catabolized reserves shift from carbohydrates to lipids and protein (Cooper and Van Gundy, 1970; Nicholas, 1975). Sohlenius et al. (1988) speculated that soil nematodes are usually in a state of food deprivation. Periods of growth and unrestrained metabolic activity are determined by the availability of organic matter and associated bacterial populations.

Nematode species endemic, and apparently successful, in the same environment had different thermal optima (Ferris et al, 1995). That finding coincides with the suggestion of Anderson and Coleman (1982) that  temperature-niche breadth reduces competition between species. We concluded that the species are adapted to predominance in the nematode community at different times during the year, or at different depths in the soil. That could determine their relative contribution to nitrogen mineralization in managed agricultural systems. Nitrogen availability following incorporation of organic matter may be influenced by depth of incorporation and by thermal determinants of the activity of key nematode species.


Anderson R. V. and Coleman D. C. (1982) Nematode temperature responses: a niche dimension in populations of bacterial-feeding nematodes. Journal of Nematology 11, 69-76.

Anderson R. V. and Kirchner T. B. (1982) A simulation model for life-history strategies of bacteriophagic nematodes. In Nematodes in Soil Ecology (D. W. Freckman, Ed.), pp. 157-175. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Andrássy I. (1956) Die rauminhalst and gewichtsbestimmung der fadenwurmer (Nematoden). Acta Zoologica Academi Sciences, Hungary 2, 1-15.

Apple M. S. and Korostyshevskiy M. A. (1980) Why many biological parameters are connected by power dependence. Journal of Theoretical Biology 85, 569-573.

Atkinson H. J. (1980) Respiration in nematodes. In Nematodes as Biological Models, Volume 2 (B. M. Zuckerman, Ed.), pp. 116-142. Academic Press, New York.

Bair T. D. (1956) The oxygen consumption of Rhabditis strongyloides and other nematodes related to oxygen tension. Journal of Parasitology 41, 613-623.

Cooper A. F. Jr and Van Gundy S. D. (1970) Metabolism of glycogen and neutral lipids by Aphelenchus avenae and Caenorhabditis sp. in aerobic, microaerobic, and anaerobic environments. Journal of Nematology 2, 305-315.

De Cuyper C. and Vanfleteren J. R. (1982) Oxygen consumption during development and aging of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology 73A, 283-289.

Dusenbery D. B., Anderson G. L. and Anderson E. A. (1978) Thermal acclimation more extensive for behavioral parameters than for oxygen consumption in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Journal of Experimental Zoology 206, 191-198.

Ferris H. and Lau S. (1992) Respiration rates of microbivorous nematodes. Journal of Nematology 24, 589 (abstr.).

Ferris, H., S. Lau and R. Venette. 1995. Population energetics of bacterial-feeding nematodes: respiration and metabolic rates based on carbon dioxide production. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 27:319-330.

Ferris, H., R. C. Venette and S. S. Lau. 1996. Dynamics of nematode communities in tomatoes grown in conventional and organic farming systems, and their impact on soil fertility. Applied Soil Ecology 3:161-175.

Ferris, H., M. Eyre, R. C. Venette and S. S. Lau. 1996. Population energetics of bacterial-feeding nematodes: stage-specific development and fecundity rates. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 28:271-280.

Freckman D. W. and Mankau R. (1986) Abundance, distribution, biomass and energetics in a northern Mojave Desert ecosystem. Pedobiologia 29, 129-142.

Klekowski R. Z., Schiemer F. and Duncan A. (1979) A bioenergetic study of a benthic nematode, Plectus palustris de Man 1880, throughout its life cycle. I. The respiratory metabolism at different densities of bacterial food. Oecologia 44, 119-124.

Klekowski R. Z., Wasilewska L. and Paplinska E. (1972) Oxygen consumption by soil-inhabiting nematodes. Nematologica 18, 391-403.

Klekowski R. Z., Wasilewska L. and Paplinska E. (1974) Oxygen consumption in the developmental stages of Panagrolaimus rigidus. Nematologica 20, 61-68.

Krogh A. (1916) The Respiratory Exchange of Animals and Man. Longmans-Green, London.

Lee D. L. and Atkinson H. J. (1977) Physiology of Nematodes. Columbia University Press, New York.

Nicholas W. L. (1975) The Biology of Free-living Nematodes. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Persson T., Baath E., Clarholm M., Lundkvist H., Soderstrom B. E. and Sohlenius B. (1980) Trophic structure, biomass dynamics and carbon metabolism of soil organisms in a Scots pine forest. In Structure and Function of Northern Coniferous Forests. An Ecosystem Study (T. Persson, Ed.), pp. 419-459. Ecological Bulletin, Stockholm 32.

Schiemer F. (1982) Food dependence and energetics of freeliving nematodes. I. Respiration, growth and reproduction of Caenorhabditis briggsae (Nematoda) at different levels of food supply. Oecologia 54, 108-121.

Schiemer F. (1983) Comparative aspects of food dependence and energetics of freeliving nematodes. Oikos 41, 32-42.

Sohlenius B. (1979) A carbon budget for nematodes, rotifers and tardigrades in a Swedish coniferous forest. Holarctic Ecology 2, 30-40.

Sohlenius B., Bostrom S. and Sandor A. (1988) Carbon and nitrogen budgets of nematodes in arable soils. Biology and Fertility of Soils 6, 1-8.

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