Background: In stark contrast to the wealth of detail about C. elegans developmental biology and molecular genetics, biologists lack basic data for understanding the abundance and distribution of Caenorhabditis species in natural areas that are unperturbed by human influence.
Methods: Here we report the analysis of dense sampling from a small, remote site in the Amazonian rain forest of the Nouragues Natural Reserve in French Guiana.
Results: Sampling of rotting fruits and flowers revealed proliferating populations of Caenorhabditis, with up to three different species co-occurring within a single substrate sample, indicating remarkable overlap of local microhabitats. We isolated six species, representing the highest local species richness for Caenorhabditis encountered to date, including both tropically cosmopolitan and geographically restricted species not previously isolated elsewhere. We also documented the structure of within-species molecular diversity at multiple spatial scales, focusing on 57 C. briggsae isolates from French Guiana. Two distinct genetic subgroups co-occur even within a single fruit. However, the structure of C. briggsae population genetic diversity in French Guiana does not result from strong local patterning but instead presents a microcosm of global patterns of differentiation. We further integrate our observations with new data from nearly 50 additional recently collected C. briggsae isolates from both tropical and temperate regions of the world to re-evaluate local and global patterns of intraspecific diversity, providing the most comprehensive analysis to date for C. briggsae population structure across multiple spatial scales.
Conclusions: The abundance and species richness of Caenorhabditis nematodes is high in a Neotropical rainforest habitat that is subject to minimal human interference. Microhabitat preferences overlap for different local species, although global distributions include both cosmopolitan and geographically restricted groups. Local samples for the cosmopolitan C. briggsae mirror its pan-tropical patterns of intraspecific polymorphism. It remains an important challenge to decipher what drives Caenorhabditis distributions and diversity within and between species.