LONDON (CU)_ When most of us hear the word ‘termite’ it would quite often be linked with a pest, however a new study demonstrates just how significant termites can be to the ecosystem and the termites that consume wood in homes account for less than 4% of the total termite population.
Similar to microorganisms playing a crucial role in the decomposition of dead organisms, termites play a similar role in natural habitats especially in tropical regions, as the absence of termites could lead to the accumulation of dead wood. The possibility of climate change causing termites to shift towards the north or south poles due to temperature changes is indicated in new results.
An international research group with the University of Liverpool researchers has demonstrated that termites are essential when it comes to decomposing wood, contributing to the earth’s carbon cycle. They also learned that termites are very sensitive to temperature and rainfall, so as temperatures rise, the insect’s part in wood decay could extend beyond the tropics.
The study, which involved over 100 researchers who evaluated locations worldwide where bacteria, fungi and termites consume dead wood. The researchers also looked into how temperature and rainfall could affect the discovery and decay of wood by using the same experimental set up at over 130 sites in a variety of habitats across 6 continents. The findings indicate that areas with high termite activity should increase as the earth becomes warmer and drier.
“With temperatures warming, the impact of termites on the planet could be huge. Termites had their biggest effects in places like tropical savannas, tropical seasonal forests and subtropical deserts. These systems are often underappreciated in terms of their contributions to the global carbon budget” said Professor Amy Zanne from the University of Miami who led the study.
The study was published in the journal Science.