News Release

Termite-mediated wood decay is temperature sensitive

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

As the planet warms, termites will likely play an increasingly important role in wood decomposition, researchers report, which will likely have important consequences for global carbon cycling in the future. The dead and decaying woody biomass that litters forest floors worldwide plays an important role in the global carbon cycle. Carbon storage in forested systems depends partly on decay rates of deadwood by organisms, which can vary depending on climate. Although microbes are widely recognized as perhaps the most important decomposers globally, other animals, including termites, are crucial to tropical woody decomposition, particularly at local and regional scales. While previous studies have shown how microbial wood decay rates respond to changing climate conditions, including temperature and precipitation, far less is known about the climate sensitivities of termites. This information is needed to estimate climate change effects on deadwood carbon stores. To address this, Amy Zanne and colleagues performed a replicated experiment at 133 sites across all continents except Antarctica to quantify the climate-related variation in wood decomposition by both microbes and termites. While Zanne et al. found that climate influenced both, termite presence and activity was more sensitive to temperature. According to the findings, termite-associated decay increased more than 6.8 times for every 10-degree Celsius increase in temperature. The authors suggest that, given the high sensitivities of both termite wood discovery and decay to temperature, termites will likely expand their range in a warming world, becoming an increasingly important force in the global carbon cycle.

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