Termites in the Savannah Belt

27 May 2010

At www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100525171229.htm a paper published by PLoS Biology says that termites are typically viewed as pests and as threats to agricultural and livestock production - and termite mounds are often destroyed. However, it has been found it can take centuries to build up a single termite mound and field research in Kenya has found they form a network of uniformly distrubuted mounds across the savannah environment. As such they are an important facet of the ecosystem - spaced some 60 to 100 metres apart. Each mound in turn supports a dense aggregation of flora and fauna. Satellite images showed each mound stood at the centre of a burst of floral activity - and populations of small animals such as lizards was particularly intense close to each mound. This is in part due to the introduction, by termites, of coarse grains into the otherwise fine silts of the savannah soils. Coarser grains promotes water infiltration into the soil and discourages shrinkage of the top soil. The mounds themselves have added levels of nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen which has an impact on productivity in the ecosystem.

One question worth adding might be - what role in droughts is the destruction of termite mounds having? Were termite mounds a feature of the Sahara desert when it was a green savannah?