Dr. Bernard

I’ve been a member of the Entomology and Plant Pathology Department since 1977, when I was hired fresh out of graduate school by Dr. Carroll Southards. I was born and raised in Detroit. My passion for nature developed early (four years old!) and eventually led me to the entomology program at Michigan State University, where I received the B.S. degree in 1972 and an M.S. degree in 1974. My M.S. work was under the supervision of the late C. W. Laughlin. I continued in nematology at the University of Georgia (Ph.D., 1977) under Richard S. Hussey, studying the movement of nematicides in soil and the population dynamics of cotton nematodes. In my tenure at Tennessee I have worked extensively on management of root-knot nematodes, nematode community structure in woody ornamental nurseries and annual crops, and nematode systematics. I have also maintained a significant effort in the taxonomy of Collembola and Protura. Most of these endeavors have been successful in large part to the excellent graduate students I have had over the years; their successes are major sources of satisfaction to me. My extensive cross-training in entomology, plant pathology and nematology has allowed me to serve as a swing person in the department, teaching not only nematology but also portions of entomology and plant pathology courses. Another important aspect has been my long-term involvement in scientific editing. I have served as the Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Nematology, and for many years now have been an editor for the megajournal Zootaxa. I am a Fellow of the Society of Nematologists and was named the Michigan State University Distinguished Alumnus in Entomology in 2018.

Research Focus

My research interests are extremely broad-based and my various skill sets have proven to be useful in a number of ways. My main focus is on the taxonomy and community composition of soil micro- and mesofauna, with emphasis on nematodes, springtails (Collembola) and Protura. Currently I collaborate with colleagues in the U.S., Algeria, Australia and Ukraine on systematics of Collembola, Protura and other hexapods. My lab has high-end light (BF, PC, DIC) microscopes equipped with high-resolution cameras, so we do a ton of imaging that enhances our understanding of what we are viewing and improves the publications we develop. Among the current projects: 

My colleague Dr. Gary Phillips and I are continuing the first extensive survey of nematodes inhabiting millipede intestines. These nematodes are kleptoparasites; they actually eat the bacteria that live in the millipede gut, and do not normally harm the millipede. Nearly every millipede at least 2 mm wide contains nematodes, sometimes exceeding 1,000 in a single intestine. We estimate at least 40 species live in North American millipedes. Most of them are new species and we are actively describing them. 

I am also testing fiber and CBD hemp cultivars for susceptibility to root galling by the southern root-knot nematode, Meloidogyne incognita. Because hemp growth was largely banned for the past 80 years, we know little about the effect of this important plant parasite on hemp health. 

Woody ornamentals nursery crops are important agricultural products for Tennessee growers. Nematodes are underestimated as pests of these crops, but surveys have demonstrated that plant-pathogenic nematodes are widespread in the important nursery production areas of the state. Detection of nematodes on plants by nurcery inspectors may prevent those plants from being shipped out-of-state.   

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Teaching focus

The following is a summary of how I try to relate to graduate students.

  1. Evaluate the entire application package. Every prospective student has potential that is not yet recognized or used. GPAs and GREs provide some evidence of classroom ability but are not infallible predictors of future success.
  2. Understand why a new student wants to work with me, preferably before he/she is accepted into the program. I invest a lot of time in the development of students. They must want to work in my field on a research problem that they find interesting.
  3. Communicate clearly the goals and expectations of the research project, the institution, and the profession. It must be made perfectly clear what needs to be done, how to do it, and how to write it.
  4. Interact frequently and effectively to be sure research and classroom progress is on course.
  5. Listen to the student when he/she mentions personal issues. I mean really listen. With the rapid increase in non-traditional graduate students, they often have a broader, deeper list of entanglements and personal problems that drag on their performance. I try to remember, “I saw the potential in this student, I have invested time and resources in an important project, and we will get through this problem and be successful.”
  6. Reassure students that they are on course and are doing well.
  7. Correct behaviors and habits detrimental to progress toward the next level.
  8. Reward the progressing student in meaningful ways.


EPP 520–Nematology
EPP 313 – Plant Pathology (two weeks of nematology)
EPP 548 – Insect Taxonomy (three weeks on basal hexapods, Psocoptera, Hymenoptera)
FYS 129 – First-year Studies (American film history)
EPP 541, 600, 606 as needed

Ernest C. Bernard

office (865) 974-7947
mobile (865) 603-0550
fax (865) 974-4744

155 Plant Biotechnology Building
2505 EJ Chapman Drive
Knoxville, TN 37996-4560

B.S., Entomology, Michigan State University
M.S., Entomology/Nematology, Michigan State University
Ph.D., Plant Pathology/Nematology, University of Georgia

90% Research, 10% Teaching

Graduate program concentrations
Organismal Biology, Ecology, and Systematics
Sustainable Disease and Integrated Pest Management Systems

Areas of expertise
Nematology, soil zoology, community ecology, basal hexapods, systematics

key words
Bunonematoidea, Collembola, community structure, forensic nematology, kleptoparasites, light microscopy, photomicrography, plant-parasitic nematodes, Protura, soil nematodes , taxonomy

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Research questions in our laboratory

  • Biodiversity of nematodes, Collembola, and Protura.
  • Effects of forest and grassland disturbance on nematode communities.
  • Potential of root-knot nematodes to parasitize fiber and CBD varieties of Cannabis sativa (hemp)
  • Occurrence and identification of plant-parasitic nematodes on commercial crops in Tennessee 
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Current lab members

  • Gary Phillips, Research Coordinator II
  • Makhali Voss, M.S. Student
  • Andrea Valdyke
  • Whitney Elam
  • Evertt Williams
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  • Amy L. Dismukes, Tennessee State Univ. Woody Ornamentals Specialist
  • Angel G. Chaffin, Pope’s Plant Firm

Selected Publications

Phillips, G., Moulton, J.K. & Bernard, E.C. 2020. Heth pivari n. sp. (Nematoda: Ransomnematoidea: Hethidae) from the indigenous North American millipede Narceus gordanus (Spirobolida: Spirobolidae), with keys for worldwide Heth spp. Zootaxa 4861 (1): 486-514. https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.4861.4.2.

Strange, N.C., Moulton, J.K., Bernard, E.C., Klingeman, E.E. III, Sampson, B.J. & Trigiano, R.N. 2020. Floral visitors to Helianthus verticillatus, a rare sunflower species in the southern United States. HortScience https://doi.org/10.21273/HORTSCI15394-20.

Supplemental materials for Publications and videos

Plates 1 and 2 for ABT publication

Youtube video: Millipede Dissections (This video is an interview with Dr. Bernard, and demonstrates dissecting a millipede.)

Youtube video: Identifying Nematodes