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Namib Desert gravel plains nematodes

Cite this dataset

Treonis, Amy (2022). Namib Desert gravel plains nematodes [Dataset]. Dryad.


Soil nematodes are fundamentally aquatic animals, requiring water to move, feed, and reproduce. Nonetheless, they are ubiquitous in desert soils because they can enter an anhydrobiotic state that allows them to persist when water is biologically unavailable.

In the hyper-arid Namib Desert of Namibia, rain is rare, but fog routinely moves inland from the coast and supports plant and animal life. Very little is understood about how this fog may affect soil organisms. We investigated the role of fog moisture in the ecology of free-living, soil nematodes across an 87-km fog gradient in the gravel plains of the Namib Desert.

We found that nematodes emerged from anhydrobiosis and became active during a fog event, suggesting that they can utilize fog moisture to survive.

There was no difference in soil nematode abundance across the fog gradient. Nematode abundance was similar under shrubs and in interplant spaces. Interplant soils harbor biological soil crusts that may sustain nematode communities.

As fog declined along the gradient, nematode diversity increased in interplant soils. In areas where fog is rare, sporadic rainfall events can stimulate the germination and growth of desert ephemerals that may have a lasting effect on nematode diversity.

In a 30-day incubation experiment, nematodes increased in abundance when soils were amended with water and organic matter. However, these responses were not evident in field samples, which show no correlations among nematode abundance, location in the fog gradient, and soil organic matter content.

Soil nematodes are found throughout the Namib Desert gravel plains under a variety of conditions. Although shown to be moisture- and organic matter-limited and able to use moisture from fog for activity, variation in fog frequency and soil organic matter across this unique ecosystem may be biologically irrelevant to soil nematodes in situ.


This dataset contains information from several field and laboratory experiments. See publication for details.  

Usage notes

Variables in spreadsheet were not measured for every sample, but this is indicated on the spreadsheet.