War on termites heats up with world's largest test site

November 26, 2003

In the world's largest experiment of its kind, scientists have set up 80 model homes on termite-infested land in the Australia's Northern Territory to test a range of novel anti-termite solutions.

In a bid to curb the $780 million that termites cost Australians each year, The University of Melbourne, the Sunshine Coast University, Queensland and the local Yolngu people have placed houses of either slab or raised floor construction with a variety of the latest defence systems against termites in Yolngu territory, Arnhem Land. The area harbours virtually every economically important species of termite known in Australia.

The research is funded by the Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation and the details and preliminary findings of some of the research were revealed at a recent University of Melbourne and Cooperative Research Centre for Wood Innovation-hosted workshop on termites.

The model homes are testing novel preservatives for the timbers and a range of chemical and physical barriers in the soil.

"We are also learning from the Yolngu people about termite behaviour and biology, says Dr Berhan Ahmed, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne and the project's principal researcher.

"The Yolngu people helped set up the project and are now responsible for its maintenance. We have also begun discussions on developing local training schemes for timber pest management," he says.

Since the banning of organo-chlorines the hunt has been on for effective, yet environment-friendly alternatives.

CEO of the CRC for Wood Innovation, Professor Peter Vinden says timber is the one of the few renewable construction materials, so our research is directed to maximising timber protection in buildings.

"To do this, a multi-faceted approach to timber protection, is required so that customers have confidence in timber-built housing. This includes incorporating appropriate building design with effective timber protection, chemical and physical barriers," he says.

"Industry, research institutes, regulatory authorities and consumer advocates will need to become partners in the challenge to build out termites."

One such technology that could soon help this process is a new University of Melbourne developed treatment plant for preserving wood against termites. The plant has the capacity to treat a timber pack suitable for an entire house in just 2 minutes. The plant is patented and the University is currently in negotiation with an industry partner to commercialise the technology.
**Photos of NT research available

University of Melbourne

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