Topography and soil pH discovered to steer the activity-density and spatial distribution of termites in a fine-scale research

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Topography and soil pH found to steer the activity-density and spatial distribution of termites in a fine-scale study

Species composition, spatial distribution patterns, termite co-occurrence, and associated environmental parameters in a finely designed study of a tropical rainforest in Xishuangbanna. The first panel (A) shows the community composition of termites at the level of feeding group and associated species. The second and fourth plots (B and D) show the spatial distribution patterns of termites and the intensity of spatial clustering. The third diagram (C) shows the cooccurrence network between the feeding groups of termites according to their coexistence. The last diagram (E) shows the species-habitat association in the study diagram. Photo credit: Soil Ecology Group, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China

Soil fauna, especially termites, are essential for sustainable forest ecosystems and have a significant impact on soil quality. Termite community composition and activity density can affect nutrient cycling and other ecological functions.

Understanding the spatial distribution and activity density of termites at the food group and species level in tropical forests at a fine scale could advance our knowledge of functional and behavioral differences between these factors. A new study shows that the spatial distribution of termites is influenced by soil topography and pH. The researchers’ findings appeared in Soil Ecology Letters.

The authors report interesting new findings from this study. For example, interspecific competitions or associations have been observed on a scale of tens of meters. They also found the effects of plant biomass and litter mass on different feeding groups of termites. These findings are fundamental to uncovering the intertwined ecosystem processes of highly diverse tropical rainforests.

Doctor Liu from the research team says that “there are very few studies on the activity density characteristics of termites. We believe this study will help us advance our understanding of termite distribution in the Asia-Pacific region, uniquely designed to capture not only the spatial activity density of termites, but also their response to environmental cues at a fine scale.”

In the study, they found that terrestrial wood feeders (Odontotermes) were the dominant feeding group and responded to the amount of plant biomass, while mushroom growers (Macrotermes), the second most common feeding group, responded to the amount of litter mass. These results differ slightly from previous studies. However, this study relied on a quantitative approach to understanding the cause-effect mechanisms between the termites and the associated environment. This study shows that soil topography and pH are the most influential factors in termite activity density. This finding again confirms that these factors are important not only for the other taxa in the soil ecosystem, but also for the termites, especially at the fine scale.

“We used both quantitative and qualitative methods to identify the spatial importance of termites over a relatively small range of elevations and environmental conditions. We believe this study is a good starting point for future research into termite community assembly mechanisms,” said Doctor Xia. The co-occurrence network generated from the coefficients of proximity could explain how feeding groups can coexist and how they are functionally linked. This could explain why the dominance of one group of termites has ecological implications for the existence of other groups and their associated regulatory capacities.

Understanding a fine-scale ecological process can fundamentally lead us to a deeper understanding of larger complex processes. This study highlighted that not all sympatric feeding groups exhibit competition for food resources and that not all separate groups have any effects or interactions with others. In biologically diverse and complex tropical rainforests, a small change in fine-scale environmental conditions can have a large impact on termite distribution, diversity, and activity density. This study provides empirical evidence on termite communities in a tropical rainforest that explains species distribution, co-occurrence, and response to environmental heterogeneity at a fine scale.

More information:
Myo Thant et al., Fine-scale activity density and spatial distribution of termites in a tropical rainforest in Xishuangbanna, Southwest China, Soil Ecology Letters (2022). DOI: 10.1007/s42832-022-0141-7

Provided by Higher Education Press

Citation: Soil topography and pH control termite activity density and spatial distribution in a fine study (2022, May 20), retrieved December 4, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-05-topography- soil-ph-activity-density-spatial.html

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