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Termites Help Protect Rainforests During Droughts, Study Finds

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Termites don't typically have a good reputation, but researchers of a new study found just how important they are to rainforests. Evidently, the often vilified creatures help protect rainforests during droughts.   ( Roy Buri | Pixabay )

Termites are often thought of as pests, but a new study revealed that in rain forests, they may be more saviors than pests.

How did termites help during a drought in Borneo?

Termite Experiment

More often than not, termites are considered pests that need to be eradicated. But in ecosystems such as rain forests, however, termites play an important role by chomping on dead wood and fallen trees, thereby keeping the fallen material in control. At the same time, the process also brings back the nutrients back into the system for other plants and animals. That said, their exact role in the ecosystem is still not established.

To try to understand the termites’ role better, researchers of a new study published in Science got rid of termites in certain patches of land in a rainforest in Borneo by placing poisoned cellulose that left some plots nearly devoid of all termites, and others unaffected.

By doing so, they were able to compare the plots of land and see exactly what the presence or absence of termites can do to a piece of land in the rainforest.

Drought Saviors

During the normal, non-drought years, researchers did not see much difference between the plots of land without termites and those without. However, the during the late 2015 to early 2016 drought in the island, researchers noticed an increase in termite activity.

Specifically, they observed that in the plots where there were more termites chomping on forest debris, the soil remained moist and the seedlings still sprouted, with a 51 percent higher chance to survive. In fact, the soil moisture in plots with termites was 36 percent higher during the drought than in the plots wherein the termite activity was disrupted.

Researchers note that this might be because termites generally require a moist environment and if necessary, will dig deeper to bring the water or moisture up into their living space.

Simply put, the termites proved that they have the capability to buffer against the effects of a warming climate, and that there is still more that people do not know about them.

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