Evolution and Systematics
The below-ground mounds of Odontotermes termites strongly influence savanna productivity via ordered spatial distribution and modification of soil composition.
"The finding that regular spatial patterns can emerge in nature from local interactions between organisms has prompted a search for the ecological importance of these patterns. Theoretical models have predicted that patterning may have positive emergent effects on fundamental ecosystem functions, such as productivity. We provide empirical support for this prediction. In dryland ecosystems, termite mounds are often hotspots of plant growth (primary productivity). Using detailed observations and manipulative experiments in an African savanna, we show that these mounds are also local hotspots of animal abundance (secondary and tertiary productivity): insect abundance and biomass decreased with distance from the nearest termite mound, as did the abundance, biomass, and reproductive output of insect-eating predators. Null-model analyses indicated that at the landscape scale, the evenly spaced distribution of termite mounds produced dramatically greater abundance, biomass, and reproductive output of consumers across trophic levels than would be obtained in landscapes with randomly distributed mounds. These emergent properties of spatial pattern arose because the average distance from an arbitrarily chosen point to the nearest feature in a landscape is minimized in landscapes where the features are hyper-dispersed (i.e., uniformly spaced). This suggests that the linkage between patterning and ecosystem functioning will be common to systems spanning the range of human management intensities. The centrality of spatial pattern to system-wide biomass accumulation underscores the need to conserve pattern-generating organisms and mechanisms, and to incorporate landscape patterning in efforts to restore degraded habitats and maximize the delivery of ecosystem services." (Pringle et al. 2010:e1000377)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
- 2010. Lowly termite, not the lion or elephant, may be the star of Africa's savanna. EurekAlert! [Internet],
- 2010. Star of Africa's savanna ecosystems may be the lowly termite: regularly spaced termite mounds are key to maintaining ecological function. ScienceDaily [Internet],
- Pringle RM; Doak DF; Brody AK; Jocqué R; Palmer TM. 2010. Spatial pattern enhances ecosystem functioning in an African savanna. PLoS Biol. 8(5): e1000377.
The gut bacteria of soil-feeding termites help make soil nitrogen available to plants and protect from ammonia toxicity via ammonia volatilization and mineralization.
"Volatilization of ammonia [about 10 nmol (g fresh wt.)_1 h_1], either directly by emission from the termite body or indirectly from their feces, led to NH3 concentrations in the nest atmosphere of C. [Cubitermes] ugandensis that were three orders of magnitude above the ambient background – a relative accumulation that is considerably higher than that observed with CH4 and CO2. Together with previous results, these observations document that through their feeding activity and due to the physicochemical and biochemical properties of their digestive system, soil-feeding termites effectively catalyze the transformation of refractory soil organic nitrogen to a plant-available form that is protected from leaching by adsorption to the nest soil. Nitrogen mineralization rates of soil-feeding termites may surpass those effected by tropical earthworms and should contribute significantly to nitrogen fluxes in tropical ecosystems." (Ji and Brune 2006:267)
Learn more about this functional adaptation.
- Ji, R.; Brune, A. 2006. Nitrogen mineralization, ammonia accumulation, and emission of gaseous NH3 by soil-feeding termites. Biogeochemistry. 78(3): 267-283.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage
Specimens with Sequences:1368
Specimens with Barcodes:1222
Species With Barcodes:287
- Termitidae Latreille, 1802
- Subfamily Apicotermitinae Grassé & Noirot, 1954  (synonym: Indotermitidae Roonwal & Sen Sarma in Roonwal, 1958)
- Subfamily Cubitermitinae Weidner, 1956
- Subfamily Foraminitermitinae Holmgren, 1912 (synonym: Pseudomicrotermitinae Holmgren, 1912)
- Subfamily Macrotermitinae Kemner, 1934, nomen protectum [ICZN 2003] (synonyms: Acanthotermitinae Sjöstedt, 1926, nomen rejiciendum [ICZN 2003]; Odontotermitini Weidner, 1956
- Subfamily Nasutitermitinae Hare, 1937
- Subfamily Sphaerotermitinae Engel & Krishna, 2004a
- Subfamily Syntermitinae Engel & Krishna, 2004a (synonym: Cornitermitinae Ensaf et al., 2004, nomen nudum)
- Subfamily Termitinae Latreille, 1802 (synonyms: Microcerotermitinae Holmgren, 1910b; Amitermitinae Kemner, 1934; Mirocapritermitinae Kemner, 1934; Mirotermitini Weidner, 1956; Capritermitini Weidner, 1956)
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