‘Citizen scientists’ assist city termite research obtain analysis breakthrough

‘Citizen scientists’ help urban termite study achieve research breakthrough

  • By Su Chin-feng and Liu Tzu-hsuan / Staff Reporter, with Staff Author

The termites that most severely damage buildings in Taiwan are among the subterranean species of Formosa and Asia, a study by National Chung Hsing University has found.

The research was led by Li Hou-feng (李後鋒), a professor in the university’s Department of Entomology, and published in October in the Journal of Economic Entomology.

Given the impracticality of entering private homes to find the pests, the research team launched a citizen science project in 2015 to solicit public support in collecting termite samples.

Photo courtesy of National Chung Hsing University

The team set up a website called the Taiwan Termite Identification Service that allowed people to record the time and place they collected a termite sample before sending it to the university’s lab.

It also created a Facebook group called the Termite Forum to promote the project and encourage people to collect samples and send them to the lab.

With the help of more than 200 members of the public and pest management professionals, the team collected 3,024 samples from 2015 to 2020.

The researchers found that the Formosa termite, which is endemic to Taiwan, accounted for 45 percent of the identified samples, mostly in northern Taiwan.

The Asian subterranean termite, an invasive species, made up 50 percent of the samples, mostly in southern Taiwan, according to the study.

The data showed that the Asian subterranean termite is slowly expanding northward.

The onset of dispersal flight events, when termites leave their original colony in search of a new one to reproduce, varies between species.

The collected samples showed that the dispersal flight of the Asian subterranean termite begins about 40 days earlier than the Formosan termite, peaking in mid-April.

When a large number of flying termites are sighted in a home, people should immediately contact termite control professionals, Li said yesterday.

Minimizing the use of lights indoors, or using yellow lights, can help reduce the number of termites making their way indoors, he added.

The eastern subterranean termite, Formosan subterranean termite and native drywood termite have also been found in Taiwan, but they did little harm, he said.

The team also found a species of Schedorhinotermes that has never been recorded in Taiwan, which Li said is likely an invasive species from Southeast Asia.

The study is “the most successful survey of urban termites ever conducted in the world,” Li said.

The findings can help organize basic information about household insects in Taiwan and can be used to study the evolution of urban pest distribution, he added.

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