It appears that termites aren’t as useless as many believe, as it was revealed by researchers at the Princeton University that termites can prevent the desertification of the soil, through their homes. The results of this study were published in the journal Science.
Researchers have found that termite houses, large dirt mounds, are extremely important to stopping the spread of deserts in agricultural lands and ecosystems that are semi-arid. The study didn’t just reveal that termites can prevent the desertification of the soil, but it found that the termites’ houses can actually make these areas much more resilient to climate change.
This new and exciting find can actually help scientists determine scientists to take on a different approach when determining possible effects of climate change on ecosystems. All thanks to termites and their homes.
In the drylands, savannas and grasslands of South America, Africa and Asia, termite mounds store moisture and nutrients. They also allow water to penetrate the soil with the help of the internal tunnels. Thanks to this, vegetation flourishes around termite mounds. These areas would have, otherwise been very vulnerable to desertification, a scientific term for the turning of the environment into desert.
It was also found that drylands with termite mounds on then can actually survive on less rain than those without mounds on them.
Corina Tarnita, Princeton assistant professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, said that aside from the fact that termites can prevent the desertification of the soil, termite mounds also preserve plant life and seeds, which help the areas where the termite homes are to rebound faster once rainfall resumes.
The rain is the same everywhere, but because termites allow water to penetrate the soil better, the plants grow on or near the mounds as if there were more rain. The vegetation on and around termite mounds persists longer and declines slower. Even when you get to such harsh conditions where vegetation disappears from the mounds, re-vegetation is still easier. As long as the mounds are there the ecosystem has a better chance to recover.
Termite mounds don’t just help improve the soil and vegetation, but also the animals. If an environment has a lush vegetation, then the herbivores, such as the zebras, will have food to eat and can thrive. The lush vegetation also offers shade for large predators as well as a vantage point to spot prey and feed themselves.
The theoretical results of this study apply to all types of termites that are known to increase resource availability on or/and around their homes.
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