Whether through trivia night or biology class in school, most of us have heard that arthropods are the largest phylum on Earth. However, I can guarantee most of you have not heard much of the second biggest phylum, the nematodes. More commonly known as roundworms, the thought of nematodes sickens most of us. This is no surprise, as most of our preconceived notions of roundworms come from the harmful and parasitic minority of the phylum. Unfortunately, this reputation is entirely undeserved and is only brought forth by the worst of their kin. Nematodes can be found in various shapes and sizes on virtually every corner of the Earth. Whether it be in your parks or backyards, there are hundreds of nematodes from dozens of species in every teaspoon of soil. Most of these worms are quite benign and are helpful to industries such as agriculture. Nematodes are nature's recyclers. Many feed on bacteria, fungi, and other tiny organisms, helping to regulate these populations and ensuring that nutrients are cycled efficiently. They are bioindicators of soil health and essential to the soil food web.
Moreover, nematodes have been a staple in our environments even 500 million years ago before dinosaurs walked the Earth. So, next time you walk outside to enjoy luscious flowerbeds or beautiful gardens, remember the microscopic world you have to thank right underneath your feet. While nematodes may not have received any appreciation from us for their hard work, it is a fact that our ecosystems could not be what it is today without them.
Daniel Kim (August, 2023)