Aust scientists find that termites help forests


Termites are enemies of the owners, but friends of the rainforests, according to Australian researchers.

Biologists at the University of Western Australia were among a group of international researchers to discover the critical role that termites play in helping the rainforest survive the drought.

Published on Friday in the journal Science, the peer-reviewed study shows that termite activity increases in the dry season, with insects chewing up to 40% more litter in the leaves.

The excrement returns to the soil as nutrients, including nitrogen compounds, potassium and other metals.

That soil was 36% wetter than outside its colony because the creatures brought underground water to the surface for their own survival.

The result of the hard work of termites? Seedling survival has increased by 51%, said UWA associate professor Theodore Evans.

He says that termites were considered important because of their huge amount but they had been difficult to study since they live mostly underground.

"The findings revealed that current models are underestimating the flow of carbon into the atmosphere during periods of drought," he said in a statement.

"The study provides further evidence on the importance of conserving important natural ecosystems, understanding their biology so that we can protect them at a time of rapid environmental change."

UWA said the study was the first to measure the effects of termites on tropical forests in reducing the impact of droughts on plants.

The study occurred in two parts of the Borneo Forest during the El Nino drought of 2015-16 with the termite population in an artificially reduced area.


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