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Pinewood nematode (PWN), Bursaphelenchus xylophilus, is the causative agent of pine wilt disease (PWD) of pine trees and is transmitted by cerambycid beetles belonging to the genus Monochamus. PWN is believed to have been introduced into Japan from North America at the beginning of the 20th century. In this article, we first provide an outline of the PWD system and the range expansion of PWN in Japan and then review the literature, focusing on the virulence of PWN. Virulence is a heritable trait in PWN, with high virulence being closely related to a high rate of reproduction and within-tree dispersal. When two PWN isolates with different virulence levels are inoculated into pine seedlings, the more virulent nematodes always dominate in dead seedlings. In a laboratory setting, many more virulent nematodes board the insect vectors than avirulent ones. The age at which vectors transmit the most abundant PWNs to pine twigs changes during the course of a PWD epidemic. However, the relation between virulence and transmission of PWN remains as yet relatively unknown. Such information would enable ecologists to predict the evolution of the PWD system. In this review we also compare ecological traits between the PWN and the avirulent congener, B. mucronatus.