Some species of termites have a greater than expected tolerance to salt water, and Taiwanese and US researchers found in a study how likely it is that the insects on driftwood have spread between continents.
Although termites can only fly a few kilometers, they are found on every continent and many islands, which begs the question of how they spread. Chiu Chun-i (邱俊 禕), a postdoctoral fellow at National Chung Hsing University and co-author of the study, said in a press release on Monday.
The most popular theory is that the insects spread on driftwood, but their tolerance to salty environments has not yet been tested, Chiu said.
Working with researchers from Tzu Chi University and the University of Florida, Chiu tested how long 12 species of termites can survive if they only eat paper soaked in salt water.
Seven of the species found across Taiwan died in less than six days, he said.
However, five other species, also found on small islands and along the coast, survived longer, from 12 days to even months, Chiu said.
Their death rate is similar to that of control groups who ate paper soaked in fresh water, he said.
The result strongly supports the theory that some species of termites have spread on driftwood around the globe, while species that cannot withstand saline environments may have spread across land bridges or in wood products, he said.
The study, titled “Tolerance to Termite Salinity and Potential for Transocean Expansion by Rafting,” was published in the journal Ecological Entomology in September last year.
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