Termites may do good


Are termites always bad? Maybe not …

In a study conducted in Borneo during the extreme drought of 2015-2016, researchers compared “widely scattered” plots of land within a tropical rainforest. In some of the plots, termites were removed; in other plots, the termites were left alone.

“In the plots with intact termite mounds and nests, soil moisture … was 36% higher during the drought than it was in plots where termite activity was disrupted.” In addition, the termites aided litter decomposition and soil nutrient content.

Termites like a moist environment and , if needed, “will dig down … to bring water up to their living spaces.”

The increase in soil moisture caused by the termite activity helped plants in the rainforest survive during the drought; plants used in the research were “51% more likely to survive” in areas where termites were active compared to areas where they were not.

What could this mean?

Due to climate change, “droughts are expected to occur more frequently” all over the world. As a result, termites could play “an increasingly important role” in assisting current and future “rainforest productivity and biodiversity.” Everything has a role to play and some human attempts to eradicate termites may lead to unintended consequences …

Read the article (Sid Perkins, Science, January 10, 2019).

Questions? Please let me know (engelk@grinnell.edu).

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