First evidence that nematode communities in deadwood are related to tree species identity and to co-occurring fungi and prokaryotes

Nematodes represent a diverse and ubiquitous group of metazoans in terrestrial environments. They feed on bacteria, fungi, plants, other nematodes or parasitize a variety of animals and hence may be considered as active members of many food webs. Deadwood is a structural component of forest ecosystems which harbors many niches for diverse biota. As fungi and bacteria are among the most prominent decomposing colonizers of deadwood, we anticipated frequent and diverse nematode populations to co-occur in such ecosystems. However, knowledge about their ability to colonize this habitat is still limited. We applied DNA-based amplicon sequencing (metabarcoding) of the 18S rRNA gene to analyze nematode communities in sapwood and heartwood of decaying logs from 13 different tree species. We identified 247 nematode ASVs (amplicon sequence variants) from 27 families. Most of these identified families represent bacterial and fungal feeders. Their composition strongly depended on tree species identity in both wood compartments. While pH and water content were the only wood properties that contributed to nematodes' distribution, co-occurring fungal and prokaryotic (bacteria and archaea) alpha- and beta-diversities were significantly related to nematode communities. By exploring thirteen different tree species, which exhibit a broad range of wood characteristics, this study provides first and comprehensive insights into nematode diversity in deadwood of temperate forests and indicates connectivity to other wood-inhabiting organisms.