• Nematode;
  • Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita;
  • field trials;
  • biological control;
  • slugs;
  • Deroceras reticulatum;
  • dose-response;
  • winter wheat;
  • methiocarb


A field experiment on winter wheat in autumn 1991 investigated the effect of the rhabditid nematode, Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita, applied to soil at five dose rates (108 - 1010 infective larvae ha-1) immediately after seed sowing, on slug populations and damage to seeds and seedlings. The nematode was compared with methiocarb pellets broadcast at recommended field rate immediately after drilling and no molluscicide treatment. Slug damage to wheat seeds and seedlings was assessed 6 and 13 wk after drilling. Seedling survival increased and slug grazing damage to seedlings declined linearly with increasing log nematode dose. These two measures of slug damage were combined to give an index of undamaged plant equivalents, which also increased linearly with increasing log nematode dose. ANOVA showed that, after 6 wk, there were significantly more undamaged plant equivalents on plots treated with the two highest nematode doses (3 × 109 and 1 × 1010 ha-1) than on untreated plots, but the number of undamaged plant equivalents on methiocarb-treated plots was not significantly greater than that on untreated plots. Slug populations were assessed by refuge trapping and soil sampling. Deroceras reticulatum was the commonest of several species of slugs recorded. During the first 4 wk after sowing, significantly more slugs were found under refuge traps on plots treated with certain doses of P. hermaphrodita than under traps on untreated plots and more showed signs of nematode infection than expected from the prevalence of infection in slugs from soil samples, suggesting that the presence of P. hermaphrodita altered slug behaviour. Application of P. hermaphrodita had no significant impact on numbers or biomass of slugs in soil during a 27 wk period after treatment, except after 5 wk when slug numbers were inversely related to log nematode dose. However, by this time, numbers in soil samples from untreated plots had declined to levels similar to those in plots treated with the highest dose of nematodes. During the first 5 wk after treatment, c. 20% of slugs in soil samples from untreated plots showed symptoms of nematode infection. It is suggested that this represented the background level of infection in the experimental field rather than spread of infection from treated plots. The apparent lack of impact of P. hermaphrodita on slug numbers and biomass in soil suggests that its efficacy in protecting wheat from slug damage was through inhibition of feeding by infected slugs.