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Title: Termite assemblage structure and function : a study of the importance of termites in lowland equatorial forests
Author: Dahlsjö, Cecilia A. L.
ISNI:       0000 0004 5355 0700
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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Termites are important ecosystem engineers in tropical and sub-tropical terrestrial regions where they influence ecosystem processes by altering the physical and chemical structure of the habitat. Termites affect nutrient availability by decomposition and comminution (shredding) of organic matter and act as agents of bioturbation as they re-work substrates during the construction of nests, tunnels and runways. At present we have a relatively good understanding of termite diversity patterns in the tropics through the extensive use of the standardised transect sampling protocol by Eggleton et al. (1995). These diversity data suggest that there is a functional difference in termite assemblage structure, and potentially in termite abundance and biomass, among comparable habitats across continents. However due to the lack of comparable abundance and biomass data from South America this has not previously been confirmed. In this thesis I, therefore, collected extensive data on termite taxonomic and functional assemblage structure in a South American site in Peru. The data were used to compare termite abundance and biomass from two comparable sites in Africa (Cameroon) and south east Asia (Malaysia) in order to gain better understanding of the role termites play in ecosystem processes. I found that there was an intercontinental difference in the abundance and biomass of termite feeding-groups mainly due to the dominance of soil-feeding termites in Cameroon and the absence of fungus-growing termites from Peru. The impact of certain lineages on the intercontinental differences suggests that the differences may be due to biogeographical evolution. Moreover, Eggleton et al. (1998) show that larger-bodied soil-feeding termites in Cameroon process more energy per unit area than predicted by their body size. Due to the need for an examination of the allometric relationships in termite assemblages outside Africa and the development of a more sophisticated feeding-group classification I explore the findings in Eggleton et al. (1998) further using population density - body mass relationships in three termite feeding-groups among the three continental sites in Cameroon, Peru and Malaysia. I found that large-bodied soil-feeding termites in Cameroon and large-bodied wood-feeding termites in Peru had higher population densities than expected by their body masses. As the population density - body mass relationship is inverse to that of the energy - body mass relationship the results suggest that the two feeding-groups also use more energy than expected by their body masses. Further, we have a relatively good understanding of the role termites play as ecosystem engineers e.g. in nutrient cycling and distribution, however, compared with our understanding of wood and litter decomposition in tropical forests quantitative data on the impact of termites in soil processes is poorly understood. In this thesis I conducted, to our knowledge, the first in situ soil macrofauna exclusion experiment using translocated soil in Peru to examine the impact of termites on soil C and N loss. I found that termites promote soil C and N loss which may be linked to the increase in microbial activity due to the passage of soil through the termite gut as well as the affect termites have on bioturbation and nutrient distribution. To conclude, in this thesis I present the first intercontinental comparison of abundance and biomass as well as the first in situ soil macrofauna exclusion experiment to date. The link between termite ecology, biogeography and evolution is discussed as well as the contribution of this thesis to the field of termite ecology.
Supervisor: Malhi, Yadvinder; Eggleton, Paul; Parr, Catherine, L.; Meir, Patrick Sponsor: Natural Environmental Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Global ; Biology ; Environment ; Ecology (zoology) ; Evolution (zoology) ; Termite ; Termitoidae ; Transect method ; Quadrat method ; Species composition ; Diversity ; Abundance ; Biomass ; Lowland tropical forest ; Soil processes ; Ecosystem engineers