Nav: Home

Hard-working termites crucial to forest, wetland ecosystems

August 14, 2019

Termites are unwelcome in your home. They can cause structural damage to the wood in frames, floors and other materials. It's nothing personal, though. They are really just looking for food sources.

But, outside, in the natural environment, termites are part of an entire ecological system. Their role is to help turn dead trees into valuable organic matter.

And, a recent study showed that termite activity in the soils of wetlands can help improve soil structure and nutrient content.

To study this question, Deborah S. Page-Dumroese and her colleagues researched various types of bedding systems in eastern South Carolina. "Microorganisms and termites are the primary wood decay agents in forests of southeastern United States," says Page-Dumroese. Previous research showed that raised planting beds on poorly-drained soils greatly improve the survival and growth of planted seedlings. Page-Dumroese's research team showed that bedding in wetlands could be a good management practice, too.

Page-Dumroese is a scientist with the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, in Idaho. She worked with team members in Michigan and South Carolina. The wetlands are part of the forest service. "There are many forested wetlands within national forests - particularly in the north and southeast" says Page-Dumroese. "But, there are some in the mountainous west as well."

The decay of dead trees (and any plant product) produces organic matter. And, this organic matter can increase crucial soil carbon content. All living things are made of carbon, and it is important to keep carbon in the soil (carbon sequestration) because it helps hold and filter water, reduces nutrient leaching, and improves forest health.

Researchers created beds in the study area using tractors. This mixed surface organic debris from the wetland floor with the mineral soil. They created beds of various height for study. Raised planting beds improve soil aeration, raise soil temperature, and increase nutrient availability.

To measure the activity of microbes and termites, the team placed wooden stakes into various sized beds. They chose stakes made of aspen as well as loblolly pine, both prevalent trees in eastern South Carolina. They compared the decomposition of the stakes over 23 months, in beds that ranged from flat to about 30 cm (12 inches).

Indeed, the team found many differences in decomposition between stake species and bedding height. Termites damaged or consumed 45% of aspen stakes in double height beds. This is compared to only 11% of the loblolly pine stakes. Microbial decay of both types of stakes increased with greater bedding heights.

They also determined that microbial decomposition of both aspen and pine stakes was greatest near the soil surface. This was independent of bed height.

Interestingly, the study site, which had poorly drained soils, had no termite activity at the beginning of the study. Termites were able to thrive when the researchers created the beds - as evidenced by their activity. Studies by other researchers have shown that termites may not be able to survive well during spring flood.

"While bedding wetland soils is clearly beneficial to tree growth and other factors, the possible long-term impacts are unknown," says Page-Dumroese. "Information on how soil bedding and other forest management practices affect organic matter decomposition rates and carbon sequestration would be helpful for managers and climate change modelers."
-end-
The study was recently published in Soil Science Society of America Journal.

American Society of Agronomy

Related Science Articles:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.
Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.
Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.
World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.
PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.
More Science News and Science Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.