Assessing the Australian termite diversity anomaly: how habitat and rainfall affect termite assemblages

Clement, Rebecca A., Flores-Moreno, Habacuc, Cernusak, Lucas A., Cheesman, Alexander W., Yatsko, Abbey R., Allison, Steven D., Eggleton, Paul, and Zanne, Amy E. (2021) Assessing the Australian termite diversity anomaly: how habitat and rainfall affect termite assemblages. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 9. 657444.

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Abstract

Termites are important ecosystem engineers in tropical habitats, with different feeding groups able to decompose wood, grass, litter, and soil organic matter. In most tropical regions, termite abundance and species diversity are assumed to increase with rainfall, with highest levels found in rainforests. However, in the Australian tropics, this pattern is thought to be reversed, with lower species richness and termite abundance found in rainforest than drier habitats. The potential mechanisms underlying this pattern remain unclear. We compared termite assemblages (abundance, activity, diversity, and feeding group composition) across five sites along a precipitation gradient (ranging from ∼800 to 4,000 mm annual rainfall), spanning dry and wet savanna habitats, wet sclerophyll, and lowland and upland rainforests in tropical North Queensland. Moving from dry to wet habitats, we observed dramatic decreases in termite abundance in both mounds and dead wood occupancy, with greater abundance and activity at savanna sites (low precipitation) compared with rainforest or sclerophyll sites (high precipitation). We also observed a turnover in termite species and feeding group diversity across sites that were close together, but in different habitats. Termite species and feeding group richness were highest in savanna sites, with 13 termite species from wood-, litter-, grass-, dung-, and soil-feeding groups, while only five termite species were encountered in rainforest and wet sclerophyll sites—all wood feeders. These results suggest that the Australian termite diversity anomaly may be partly driven by how specific feeding groups colonized habitats across Australia. Consequently, termites in Australian rainforests may be less important in ecosystem processes, such as carbon and nutrient cycling during decomposition, compared with termites in other tropical rainforests.

Item ID: 70452
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2296-701X
Keywords: Australian tropical forest, Blattodea, carbon cycle, community assembly, ecosystem engineers, Isoptera, savanna, termite community assembly
Copyright Information: © 2021 Clement, Flores-Moreno, Cernusak, Cheesman, Yatsko, Allison, Eggleton and Zanne. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
Date Deposited: 18 Nov 2021 01:57
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310308 Terrestrial ecology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280102 Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences @ 100%
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