Special Issue "Ecology of Termites"

A special issue of Insects (ISSN 2075-4450).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 November 2018)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Judith Korb

Department of Evolutionary Biology and Animal Ecology; University of Freiburg; Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
Website | E-Mail
Interests: ecology of termites; social evolution; communication in termites; ageing in social insects

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Termites have a bad reputation as pests. However, as is so often the case, the termites’ disrepute is the result of the actions of just a few, and the great majority of the about 3000 species are dwellers of the dark, and have a pivotal role in ecosystem functioning that goes unnoticed. Termites are evolutionarily and ecologically very successful insects. Living in complex societies and able to digest wood with the aid of a diverse symbiotic gut fauna seems the basis for this success story.

This Special Issue will focus on the ecology of termites. Any topics related to termites and their ecology, including biodiversity, systematics, termite-related symbiosis, termite management, and social organization, are invited from across the globe. Authors are encouraged to submit relevant research articles, as well as review manuscripts.

Prof. Dr. Judith Korb
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • biodiversity
  • ecosystem services
  • phylogenetics
  • social organization
  • behavior
  • termite management

Published Papers (13 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle
Termites (Blattodea Latreille 1810, Termitoidae Latreille 1802) of Abuko Nature Reserve, Nyambai Forest Park and Tanji Bird Reserve (The Gambia)
Insects 2019, 10(5), 122; https://doi.org/10.3390/insects10050122
Received: 6 March 2019 / Revised: 4 April 2019 / Accepted: 17 April 2019 / Published: 28 April 2019
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Abstract
From 28 October to 5 November 2013, a termite study was undertaken in 3 protected sites in The Gambia (West Africa). The aim of the study is to investigate the diversity of termites in three protected areas in the western region of the [...] Read more.
From 28 October to 5 November 2013, a termite study was undertaken in 3 protected sites in The Gambia (West Africa). The aim of the study is to investigate the diversity of termites in three protected areas in the western region of the country. Termite sampling is carried out in 100 m × 2 m transects that are replicated three (3) times in each site. A total of thirty-one (31) termite species, that belong to fungus growing (11), harvester (1), humuvorous (12) and xylophagous (7), were recorded. The following nineteen (19) species are new to The Gambia: Coptotermes intermedius, Astalotermes near quietus, Ancistrotermes cavithorax, Macrotermes bellicosus, Microtermes grassei, M. lepidus, M. subhyalinus, Odontotermes erraticus, O. pauperans, O. sudanensis, Basidentitermes sp., Euchilotermes tensus arcuata, Noditermes cristifrons, Amitermes evuncifer, Amitermes spinifer, Microcerotermes fuscotibialis, Microcerotermes near parvulus, Microcerotermes near solidus and Promirotermes holmgreni. Additional description and/or ecological information on Odontotermes erraticus, Cubitermes severus, Cubitermes n. proximatus, Euchilotermes tensus arcuata, Basidentitermes sp., and Noditermes cristifrons are given. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ecology of Termites)
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Open AccessArticle
Phylogenetic Community Structure and Niche Differentiation in Termites of the Tropical Dry Forests of Colombia
Insects 2019, 10(4), 103; https://doi.org/10.3390/insects10040103
Received: 15 December 2018 / Revised: 3 April 2019 / Accepted: 8 April 2019 / Published: 10 April 2019
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Abstract
The mechanisms that structure species communities are still debated. We addressed this question for termite assemblages from tropical dry forests in Colombia. These forests are endangered and poorly understood ecosystems and termites are important ecosystem engineers in the tropics. Using biodiversity and environmental [...] Read more.
The mechanisms that structure species communities are still debated. We addressed this question for termite assemblages from tropical dry forests in Colombia. These forests are endangered and poorly understood ecosystems and termites are important ecosystem engineers in the tropics. Using biodiversity and environmental data, combined with phylogenetic community analyses, trait mapping, and stable isotopes studies, we investigated the termite community composition of three protected dry forests in Colombia. Our data suggest that the structuring mechanisms differed between sites. Phylogenetic overdispersion of termite assemblages correlated with decreasing rainfall and elevation and increasing temperature. Food niche traits—classified as feeding groups and quantified by δ15N‰ and δ13C‰ isotope signatures—were phylogenetically conserved. Hence, the overdispersion pattern implies increasing interspecific competition with decreasing drier and warmer conditions, which is also supported by fewer species occurring at the driest site. Our results are in line with a hypothesis that decreased biomass production limits resource availability for termites, which leads to competition. Along with this comes a diet shift: termites from drier plots had higher δ13C signatures, reflecting higher δ13C values in the litter and more C4 plants. Our study shows how a phylogenetic community approach combined with trait analyses can contribute to gaining the first insights into mechanisms structuring whole termite assemblages. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ecology of Termites)
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Open AccessArticle
Temperature-Mediated Variations in Behavior and Mortality Caused by Non-Repellent Insecticides in Subterranean Termites (Blattodea: Rhinotermitidae)
Received: 30 November 2018 / Revised: 6 January 2019 / Accepted: 28 January 2019 / Published: 30 January 2019
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Abstract
Behavioral symptoms and mortality associated with intoxication with insecticides fipronil and indoxacarb were determined in field-collected eastern subterranean termites, Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar), and Formosan subterranean termites, Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki. Behaviors and mortality were evaluated at three temperatures (16, 22, and 28 °C) and [...] Read more.
Behavioral symptoms and mortality associated with intoxication with insecticides fipronil and indoxacarb were determined in field-collected eastern subterranean termites, Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar), and Formosan subterranean termites, Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki. Behaviors and mortality were evaluated at three temperatures (16, 22, and 28 °C) and three concentrations of fipronil (0.5, 1, and 5 ppm) and indoxacarb (50, 75, and 100 ppm). LT50 (median lethal time to kill 50% of the termites) values declined with increasing concentrations and temperatures for both fipronil-exposed eastern and Formosan subterranean termites, whereas these values were not always the highest at 16 °C for indoxacarb-treated termites. The greatest change (reduction) in LT50 values occurred for both species between 16 and 22 °C at the lowest concentration of each insecticide. Intoxication and moribundity were the most frequently observed behaviors for fipronil-exposed termites, whereas intoxication, ataxia, and moribundity were observed for most concentration and temperature combinations for indoxacarb-exposed termites. The inherent toxicity of fipronil was higher than that of indoxacarb. The higher presence and duration of intoxication behaviors may positively affect the performance of indoxacarb against subterranean termite colonies. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ecology of Termites)
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Open AccessCommunication
Ecological Drivers of Species Distributions and Niche Overlap for Three Subterranean Termite Species in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, USA
Received: 1 December 2018 / Revised: 16 January 2019 / Accepted: 17 January 2019 / Published: 21 January 2019
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Abstract
In both managed and unmanaged forests, termites are functionally important members of the dead-wood-associated (saproxylic) insect community. However, little is known about regional-scale environmental drivers of geographic distributions of termite species, and how these environmental factors impact co-occurrence among congeneric species. Here we [...] Read more.
In both managed and unmanaged forests, termites are functionally important members of the dead-wood-associated (saproxylic) insect community. However, little is known about regional-scale environmental drivers of geographic distributions of termite species, and how these environmental factors impact co-occurrence among congeneric species. Here we focus on the southern Appalachian Mountains—a well-known center of endemism for forest biota—and use Ecological Niche Modeling (ENM) to examine the distributions of three species of Reticulitermes termites (i.e., R. flavipes, R. virginicus, and R. malletei). To overcome deficiencies in public databases, ENMs were underpinned by field-collected high-resolution occurrence records coupled with molecular taxonomic species identification. Spatial overlap among areas of predicted occurrence of each species was mapped, and aspects of niche similarity were quantified. We also identified environmental factors that most strongly contribute to among-species differences in occupancy. Overall, we found that R. flavipes and R. virginicus showed significant niche divergence, which was primarily driven by dry-season precipitation. Also, all three species were most likely to co-occur in the mid-latitudes of the study area (i.e., northern Alabama and Georgia, eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina), which is an area of considerable topographic complexity. This work provides important baseline information for follow-up studies of local-scale drivers of these species’ distributions. It also identifies specific geographic areas where future assessments of the frequency of true syntopy vs. micro-allopatry, and associated interspecific competitive interactions, should be focused. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ecology of Termites)
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Open AccessArticle
Consumption Rate of Lichens by Constrictotermes cyphergaster (Isoptera): Effects of C, N, and P Contents and Ratios
Received: 25 November 2018 / Revised: 19 December 2018 / Accepted: 2 January 2019 / Published: 9 January 2019
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Abstract
Wood is the main dietary item for most termites; however, supplementation with certain nutrients may occur via the ingestion of other available food resources in the ecosystem. The objective of this study was to evaluate the consumption of lichens with different C, N, [...] Read more.
Wood is the main dietary item for most termites; however, supplementation with certain nutrients may occur via the ingestion of other available food resources in the ecosystem. The objective of this study was to evaluate the consumption of lichens with different C, N, and P contents by Constrictotermes cyphergaster under laboratory conditions, and estimate the intake of this substrate by this species in a semi-arid area of Northeast Brazil. The foraging activities of fifteen field colonies were monitored over 15 days from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., and the lichens that were consumed were identified. Blocks of lichen thallus (1.5 × 1.5 cm) of four lichen species were offered to the termites in the laboratory. The mean total consumption rate of lichen by C. cyphergaster was 0.032 mg lichen/g termite (fresh weight)/day. Dirinaria confluens was the lichen most consumed by termites (0.010 mg lichen/g of termite (fresh weight)/day), followed by Lecanora spp. and Haematomma persoonii at a mean consumption of 0.008 and 0.006 mg lichen/g termite (fresh weight)/day, respectively. Based on the size of the C. cyphergaster populations, the estimated lichen consumption rate was 105.12 g lichen/ha/year. Lichen consumption was significantly affected by the N content and the C:N and C:P ratios, with the N content being the factor that best explained the consumption by the termites. The results suggest that C. cyphergaster can use lichens as a supplemental source of nutrients, especially nutrients that are found in low concentrations in wood. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ecology of Termites)
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Open AccessArticle
Termite Communities along A Disturbance Gradient in a West African Savanna
Received: 23 November 2018 / Revised: 28 December 2018 / Accepted: 30 December 2018 / Published: 8 January 2019
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Abstract
(1) Background: Termites are important ecosystem engineers, crucial for the maintenance of tropical biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. But they are also pests which cause billions of dollars in damage annually to humans. Currently, our understanding of the mechanisms influencing species occurrences is limited [...] Read more.
(1) Background: Termites are important ecosystem engineers, crucial for the maintenance of tropical biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. But they are also pests which cause billions of dollars in damage annually to humans. Currently, our understanding of the mechanisms influencing species occurrences is limited and we do not know what distinguishes pest from non-pest species. (2) Method: We analyzed how anthropogenic disturbance (agriculture) affects species occurrences. We tested the hypothesis that strong disturbance functions as a habitat filter and selects for a subset of species which are major pests of crop. Using a cross-sectional approach, we studied termite assemblage composition along a disturbance gradient from fields to 12-year-old fallows in a West African savanna. (3) Results: We reliably identified 19 species using genetic markers with a mean of about 10 species—many of them from the same feeding type—co-occurring locally. Supporting our hypothesis, disturbance was associated with environmental filtering of termites from the regional species pool, maybe via its effect on vegetation type. The most heavily disturbed sites were characterized by a subset of termite species which are well-known pests of crop. (4) Conclusion: These results are in line with the idea that strong anthropogenic disturbance selects for termite pest species. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ecology of Termites)
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Open AccessArticle
Linking Termite Feeding Preferences and Soil Physical Functioning in Southern-Indian Woodlands
Received: 31 October 2018 / Revised: 19 December 2018 / Accepted: 27 December 2018 / Published: 4 January 2019
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Abstract
Termites are undoubtedly amongst the most important soil macroinvertebrate decomposers in semi-arid environments in India. However, in this specific type of environment, the influence of termite foraging activity on soil functioning remains unexplored. Therefore, this study examines the link between the quality of [...] Read more.
Termites are undoubtedly amongst the most important soil macroinvertebrate decomposers in semi-arid environments in India. However, in this specific type of environment, the influence of termite foraging activity on soil functioning remains unexplored. Therefore, this study examines the link between the quality of litter and the functional impact of termite feeding preferences on soil properties and soil hydraulic conductivity in a deciduous forest in southern India. Different organic resources (elephant dung: “ED”, elephant grass: “EG”, acacia leaves: “AL” and layers of cardboard: “CB”) were applied on repacked soil cores. ED appeared to be the most attractive resource to Odontotermes obesus, leading to a larger amount of soil sheeting (i.e., the soil used by termites for covering the litter they consume), more numerous and larger holes in the ground and a lower soil bulk density. As a consequence, ED increased the soil hydraulic conductivity (4-fold) compared with the control soil. Thus, this study highlights that the more O. obesus prefers a substrate, the more this species impacts soil dynamics and water infiltration in the soil. This study also shows that ED can be used as an efficient substrate for accelerating the infiltration of water in southern-Indian soils, mainly through the production of galleries that are open on the soil surface, offering new perspectives on termite management in this environment. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ecology of Termites)
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Open AccessArticle
Determinants of Termite Assemblages’ Characteristics within Natural Habitats of a Sudano-Guinean Savanna (Comoe National Park, Côte d’Ivoire)
Received: 14 November 2018 / Revised: 1 December 2018 / Accepted: 8 December 2018 / Published: 10 December 2018
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Abstract
Termites are one of the major components of tropical ecosystems. However, the ecological and biological variables determining the structure of their communities within natural habitats are less documented in general and especially in the Comoe National Park, a Sudano-Guinean savanna zone located in [...] Read more.
Termites are one of the major components of tropical ecosystems. However, the ecological and biological variables determining the structure of their communities within natural habitats are less documented in general and especially in the Comoe National Park, a Sudano-Guinean savanna zone located in the north-eastern part of Côte d’Ivoire (West Africa). Using a standardized method of belt transects, the structure of termite’s communities was estimated within habitats differing in the structure of their vegetation, soil characteristics, and the disturbance level caused by annual occurrences of bushfires. The effect of a set of environmental variables (habitat type, occurrence of annual bushfire, woody plant density, woody plant species richness, and soil physicochemical parameters) was tested on the habitat-specific recorded termite species. Sixty species of termites belonging to 19 genera, seven subfamilies and two families, namely Rhinotermitidae (Coptotermitinae and Rhinotermitinae) and Termitidae (Apicotermitinae, Cubitermitinae, Macrotermitinae, Nasutitermitinae, and Termitinae) were sampled. These species were assigned to the four feeding groups of termites: fungus growers (18 species), wood feeders (17 species), soil feeders (19 species) and the grass feeders (6 species). The highest diversity of termites was encountered in forest habitats, with 37 and 34, respectively, for the gallery forest and the forest island. Among savanna habitats, the woodland savanna was identified as the most diversified habitat with 32 recorded species, followed by the tree savanna (28 species) and the grassy savanna (17 species). The distribution of termite species and their respective feedings groups was determined by the habitat type and a set of environmental variables such as Woody Plant Diversity (WPD), Woody plant Families Diversity (WPFD), and Organic Carbon (OC). The annual Fire Occurrence (FO) was found to indirectly impact the characteristics of termite assemblages within natural habitats via their respective Herbaceous Species Richness (HSR) and Woody Plant Species Richness (WPSR). In summary, the spatial heterogeneity of the Comoe National Park, modeled by the uncontrolled annual bushfire, offers a diversified natural habitat with an important variety of termite-habitat-specific species, probably due to the food preference of these organisms and its relatively good conservation status. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ecology of Termites)
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Review

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Open AccessReview
Symbiotic Plant Biomass Decomposition in Fungus-Growing Termites
Received: 1 February 2019 / Revised: 5 March 2019 / Accepted: 6 March 2019 / Published: 28 March 2019
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Abstract
Termites are among the most successful animal groups, accomplishing nutrient acquisition through long-term associations and enzyme provisioning from microbial symbionts. Fungus farming has evolved only once in a single termite sub-family: Macrotermitinae. This sub-family has become a dominant decomposer in the Old World; [...] Read more.
Termites are among the most successful animal groups, accomplishing nutrient acquisition through long-term associations and enzyme provisioning from microbial symbionts. Fungus farming has evolved only once in a single termite sub-family: Macrotermitinae. This sub-family has become a dominant decomposer in the Old World; through enzymatic contributions from insects, fungi, and bacteria, managed in an intricate decomposition pathway, the termites obtain near-complete utilisation of essentially any plant substrate. Here we review recent insights into our understanding of the process of plant biomass decomposition in fungus-growing termites. To this end, we outline research avenues that we believe can help shed light on how evolution has shaped the optimisation of plant-biomass decomposition in this complex multipartite symbiosis. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ecology of Termites)
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Open AccessReview
Termite Ecology in the First Two Decades of the 21st Century: A Review of Reviews
Received: 28 January 2019 / Revised: 19 February 2019 / Accepted: 21 February 2019 / Published: 26 February 2019
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Abstract
Termite ecology came of age in 1978 with the seminal review of Wood and Sands which by considering the quantitative contributions made by termites to the carbon cycle at the landscape level concluded that they were major players in tropical ecosystems. Subsequent field [...] Read more.
Termite ecology came of age in 1978 with the seminal review of Wood and Sands which by considering the quantitative contributions made by termites to the carbon cycle at the landscape level concluded that they were major players in tropical ecosystems. Subsequent field work in the succeeding two decades was summarised in 2000 by Bignell and Eggleton, the most recent review which attempted to cover the entire topic in detail, which included 188 listed references and has been extensively cited for almost 20 years. Subsequent summaries more narrowly defined or in some cases more superficial are listed in the bibliography. In this overview, the main and subsidiary headings in Bignell and Eggleton are revisited and reclassified in the light of 186 selected articles added to the relevant literature since 2000, and some earlier work. While the literature on termite ecology remains buoyant, it has declined relative to publications on other aspects of termite biology. Overall, the thesis that termites have a major impact on, and are major indicators of soil health and landscape integrity in the tropics and sub-tropics is maintained, but the drivers of local diversity, abundance and biomass remain complex, with many biographical, edaphic and optimum sampling issues not completely resolved. The large increase in diversity and abundance data from Neotropical biomes can also be noted. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ecology of Termites)
Open AccessReview
Diversity of Termite Breeding Systems
Received: 14 December 2018 / Revised: 29 January 2019 / Accepted: 30 January 2019 / Published: 12 February 2019
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Abstract
Termites are social insects that live in colonies headed by reproductive castes. The breeding system is defined by the number of reproductive individuals in a colony and the castes to which they belong. There is tremendous variation in the breeding system of termites [...] Read more.
Termites are social insects that live in colonies headed by reproductive castes. The breeding system is defined by the number of reproductive individuals in a colony and the castes to which they belong. There is tremendous variation in the breeding system of termites both within and among species. The current state of our understanding of termite breeding systems is reviewed. Most termite colonies are founded by a primary (alate-derived) king and queen who mate and produce the other colony members. In some species, colonies continue throughout their life span as simple families headed by the original king and queen. In others, the primary king and queen are replaced by numerous neotenic (nymph- or worker-derived) reproductives, or less commonly primary reproductives, that are descendants of the original founding pair leading to inbreeding in the colony. In still others, colonies can have multiple unrelated reproductives due to either founding the colonies as groups or through colony fusion. More recently, parthenogenetic reproduction has shown to be important in some termite species and may be widespread. A major challenge in termite biology is to understand the ecological and evolutionary factors driving the variation in termite breeding systems. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ecology of Termites)
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Open AccessReview
Termite Taxonomy, Challenges and Prospects: West Africa, A Case Example
Received: 23 November 2018 / Revised: 8 January 2019 / Accepted: 9 January 2019 / Published: 16 January 2019
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Abstract
Termites are important ecosystem engineers. Yet they are often difficult to identify due to the lack of reliable species-specific morphological traits for many species, which hampers ecological research. Recently, termitologists working with West African termites (West African Termite Taxonomy Initiative) convened for a [...] Read more.
Termites are important ecosystem engineers. Yet they are often difficult to identify due to the lack of reliable species-specific morphological traits for many species, which hampers ecological research. Recently, termitologists working with West African termites (West African Termite Taxonomy Initiative) convened for a workshop with the aim of beginning to address this problem. Repeated determination of the same termite samples by the most renowned taxonomists for West African termites identified the huge scale of the problem, as less than 10% of all species could be unambiguously determined to the species level. Intensive discussions and comparisons increased the identification success to around 25% at the end of the workshop. Yet many groups remained problematic and molecular markers and barcoding techniques combined with species delimitation approaches will be needed to help resolve these existing taxonomic problems. Based on the outcome of this workshop, we propose concerted initiatives to address termite taxonomy on a global scale. We are convinced that dedicated workshops on regional taxonomy that follow a similar structured approach, with repeated determination of the same sample, will help overcome the difficulties that termite taxonomy faces. This initiative can also serve as a blueprint for other taxonomical groups that are difficult to identify. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ecology of Termites)
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Other

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Open AccessCase Report
Niche Differentiation between Two Sympatric Cubitermes Species (Isoptera, Termitidae, Cubitermitinae) Revealed by Stable C and N Isotopes
Received: 14 December 2018 / Revised: 1 January 2019 / Accepted: 12 January 2019 / Published: 1 February 2019
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Abstract
Many African termite species are true soil-feeders: how can they coexist, sometimes with high densities? How do they separate their trophic niches? Preliminary results suggest that two coexisting Cubitermes species forage in different soil layers, and stable C and N isotopes show that [...] Read more.
Many African termite species are true soil-feeders: how can they coexist, sometimes with high densities? How do they separate their trophic niches? Preliminary results suggest that two coexisting Cubitermes species forage in different soil layers, and stable C and N isotopes show that they feed on different organic material. Cubitermes aff. ugandensis forages near the soil surface whereas C. aff. sankurensis forages in deeper layers; however, unexpectedly, the former shows a higher δ15N than the latter, highlighting, for the first time, a trophic niche differentiation between two sympatric true soil feeders bearing different enteric valve patterns. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Ecology of Termites)
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