Termites Can Reduce Effects Of Drought, Study Reveals

Posted: Jan 13 2019, 2:16pm CST | by , in Latest Science News


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Termites can Reduce Effects of Drought, Study Reveals
Credit: Jan Šobotník

Researchers have found that termites play a crucial role in maintaining ecosystem in tropical rainforests during dry periods.

Droughts are mainly driven by climate change. Due to rapid changes in weather patterns, droughts are expected to increase in severity and frequency in the future. However, researchers have discovered that termites play a crucial role in maintaining ecosystem processes during periods of drought and they can reduce drought's devastating effects at least in tropical rainforests.

“Whilst there has been some work exploring how severe drought affects plants in tropical rainforests, our study shows for the first time that having termites helps protect forest from the effects of drought. Termites might only be small but collectively their presence can help reduce the effects of climate change in tropical systems.” Professor Kate Parr from the University of Liverpool said.

In the first large-scale study of its kind, researchers investigated tropical rainforest in Malaysian Borneo during and after an extreme drought. Borneo forests suffered an El Nino drought in 2015-16 which severely affected the ability of the land surface to grow plants and trees.

To understand the role of the insect, researchers monitored sites full of termites and compared them with those where termites had been experimentally removed. Researchers saw an increase in the abundance of termites during the drought period, while these sites had fewer termites in the non-drought period.

More termites during the drought resulted in higher rates of leaf litter decomposition and nutrient cycling. As a result, drought period experienced an increase in soil moisture and young plant survival rate was also higher compared to non-drought period.

"The results of our study are important because we show that intact biological communities can act as a kind of ecological insurance by keeping ecosystems functioning in times of environmental stress." Lead author, Dr. Hannah Griffiths said.

During prolonged dry periods, the environment is in urgent need of water and nutrients to maintain ecosystem functions. Termites, particularly in the subtropical and tropical regions, recycle wood and other plant matter and offer ecological benefits.

Researcher Louise Ashton from the Natural History Museum and University of Hong Kong says."Termites confer important ecosystem services, not only in pristine tropical rainforest, but in disturbed or even agricultural ecosystems, if termite abundance is reduced with disturbance, these habitats could be particularly sensitive to drought."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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