How forest termites protect tropical forests from drought

January 10, 2019

The efforts of tiny forest termites have a big effect on the harmful ecological effects of drought in tropical rainforests, according to a new study, which reveals their important role in maintaining ecosystem function during periods of extended aridity. The results underscore the importance of conserving natural ecosystems by showing how a single insect community can help safeguard an entire forest during rapid environmental change. Termites are known to be some of the most important ecosystem engineers. They change soil properties by decomposing organic matter, wood and leaf litter on the forest floor, mixing and maintaining soil nutrients, and regulating moisture - all of which are key factors in maintaining rainforest ecosystems. Extended periods of drought pose a threat to these important ecosystem functions, which can greatly impact tree mortality. However, the overall ecological contributions of forest termites remain largely unquantified, and according to the authors, little is known about how drought-mediated changes to their communities affect tropical rainforest ecosystems during periods of environmental stress. By suppressing termite activity in sections of old-growth tropical rainforest in Malaysia during and after the 2015-2016 "super El Niño" drought, Louise Ashton and colleagues were able to assess the insect's specific role in rainforest ecosystem functioning. Ashton et al. discovered that termite activity and abundance more than doubled in plots where termite communities were present during drought compared to post-drought conditions, which resulted in higher litter decomposition rates, soil nutrient mixing and soil moisture. Furthermore, seedling survivability decreased in areas where termites were suppressed, according to the authors. The study's results suggest that increased termite activity during drought helps buffer important soil processes crucial for tropical forest survival and that human-mediated impacts on forest termite communities could make tropical forests less resistant to future drought.
-end-


American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related Drought Articles from Brightsurf:

Redefining drought in the US corn belt
As the climate trends warmer and drier, global food security increasingly hinges on crops' ability to withstand drought.

The cost of drought in Italy
Drought-induced economic losses ranged in Italy between 0.55 and 1.75 billion euros over the period 2001-2016, and droughts caused significant collateral effects not only on the agricultural sector, but also on food manufacturing industries.

Consequences of the 2018 summer drought
The drought that hit central and northern Europe in summer 2018 had serious effects on crops, forests and grasslands.

Songbirds reduce reproduction to help survive drought
New research from the University of Montana suggests tropical songbirds in both the Old and New Worlds reduce reproduction during severe droughts, and this - somewhat surprisingly -- may actually increase their survival rates.

Predicting drought in the American West just got more difficult
A new, USC-led study of more than 1,000 years of North American droughts and global conditions found that forecasting a lack of precipitation is rarely straightforward.

Where is the water during a drought?
In low precipitation periods - where and how is the limited available water distributed and what possibilities are there for improving retention in the soil and the landscape?

What does drought mean for endangered California salmon?
Droughts threatens California's endangered salmon population -- but pools that serve as drought refuges could make the difference between life and death for these vulnerable fish.

With shrinking snowpack, drought predictability melting away
New research from CU Boulder suggests that during the 21st century, our ability to predict drought using snow will literally melt away.

An evapotranspiration deficit drought index to detect drought impacts on ecosystems
The difference between actual and potential evapotranspiration, technically termed a standardized evapotranspiration deficit drought index (SEDI), can more sensitively capture the biological changes of ecosystems in response to the dynamics of drought intensity, compared with indices based on precipitation and temperature.

Sesame yields stable in drought conditions
Research shows adding sesame to cotton-sorghum crop rotations is possible in west Texas

Read More: Drought News and Drought Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.