Taiwan-U.S. research backs idea of termite unfold through driftwood

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Taipei, March 2 (CNA) Some species of termites have a strong ability to withstand salt water, which supports the theory that they spread across oceans by drifting on wood. This is evident from a study carried out by Taiwanese and American researchers.

Although termites cannot fly more than a few kilometers, there are multiple species of termites on continents and islands, which begs the question of how they spread, said Chiu Chun-i (邱俊 禕), the study’s lead author, in a press release on Monday.

Chiu, a postdoctoral fellow at National Chung Hsing University, said the most popular theory was that termites spread in driftwood, so decided to test whether they could actually withstand the salinity in seawater.

Working with researchers from Tzu Chi University and the University of Florida, he tested how long 12 species of termites could survive if they only eat filter paper soaked in salt water.

Seven of the species typically found in cities or mountain areas in Taiwan failed to survive and mostly died in less than six days, Chiu said.

But five other species that live on islands or in coastal areas were unaffected by consuming salt water and could survive for more than 12 days and even months, Chiu said.

Their death rate was similar to that of a control group of the five species of termites that fed on filter paper soaked in fresh water, Chiu said.

The results “strongly support” that, according to fuel, these five species of termites may have spread through driftwood across bodies of water, while the seven species of termites inland, according to Chiu, were more likely to have spread by human transport or over land bridges, according to Chiu.

The study, titled “Tolerance to Termite Salinity and Potential for Transocean Spread by Rafting,” was published in the journal Ecological Entomology in September 2020.

(From Chao Li-yan and Chiang Yi-ching)

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